The men who used the spinning wheels of a pickup to damage a Black Lives Matter mural on Center Street last year—as they and their friends who were watching from the sidelines shouted white supremacist slogans and made Nazi salutes—must pay more than $19,000 in restitution and attend restorative justice and cognitive behavior classes, a Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge ordered Friday.
Hagen Warner, 20, and Brandan Bochat, 21, will also serve two years on probation and have the threat of 90 days in jail hanging over their heads if they break any laws during that time.
The newly-convicted felons are also prohibited from owning firearms.
If they manage to someday reduce their conviction to a misdemeanor—which their attorneys said was a hope—Judge Syda Cogliati signaled she would consider adding a 10-year firearms ban.
Warner and Hagen Pleaded no contest to felony vandalism and hate crime charges on Oct. 24.
The sentence followed more than an hour of impassioned victim impact statements from community members and the people who created the mural.
The unusual decision to allow testimony from the public, Cogliati said, was a way to bring important voices to the case.
“Here, the community is the victim,” she said. “Victim impact statements are an essential part of our criminal justice system.”
Abi Mustapha, one of the artists who created the mural, said the vandalism—and the fallout from it—has left her feeling unsafe and scared.
“You have hurt me,” she said to the men as they looked on silently. “You have tried to intimidate me. And you have gone out of your way to try to destroy something that took a lot of work to create, and that’s not OK.”
More than a dozen speakers asked the judge to impose the maximum punishment and to increase the two-year sentence recommended by the probation department. But Cogliati said laws created by the state legislature bound her.
Santa Cruz City Councilman Justin Cummings was one of two Black men elected for the first time in 2018.
“It took a really long time for Black people to have a voice in our local government,” he said.
The creation of the mural, Cummings said, came in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, as communities were organizing around the Black Lives Matter movement. It was the same year that Cummings served as Santa Cruz Mayor—he was the first Black man to do so.
“This really helped bring our community together, and many people expressed how much they appreciated the fact that we were able to put this type of mural in our community,” he said.
The act of vandalism was an act of racism and intimidation aimed at the Black community, Cummings said.
“It was so egregious that not only did they do that act, but they recorded it and put it online to spread hate, and that is something that should not be acceptable,” he said.
Community organizer Esabella Bonner said the vandalism is a sign of a deeper underlying problem with society as a whole, and that she experienced racism as a student at Soquel High School.
“What we are witnessing in the behaviors and actions of these men is a failure of systems,” she said. “Systems that have failed not only the Black community but also these men themselves.”
Turning toward the vandals, she told them she hopes that restorative justice “sets you free … and I wish you both an opportunity to shed away the hate and the hurt that lives inside your bones and get to the root of your own inferiority complex.”
Neither Bochat nor Warner spoke in court.
Warner’s defense attorney Ed Sidawi explained that his client was “incredibly nervous.”
“This entire process has taken an emotional toll on him, and being here every court appearance,” Sidawi said, adding that Warner will likely discuss the matter in smaller group settings as part of his required restorative justice classes.
Bochat’s attorney Mischa Rinkus said he “is committed not to be a force of hate or divisiveness in the community and to live his life in another way.”
“He offers his sincere apology to the community of Santa Cruz for his behavior, which was not just hateful but divisive at a very critical time for our community,” she said.
Rinkus added that Bochat “is not a white supremacist.”
But Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan had a different view.
While both men are equally to blame, Mahan said, Warner has come to all the hearings and showed some form of remorse and regret.
That is not true for Bochat, who “never—still doesn’t—take this seriously,” Mahan said.
Bochat’s assertions that he did not plan the vandalism were belied by the fact that he let someone out of his truck to take a video of him doing it, Mahan said.
But the most damning evidence of Bochat’s racism was evidence taken from his cell phone.
Mahan read several expletive-filled text messages in which Bochat used racial slurs to say he hates Black people and wants to “kill them all” with an assault rifle.
The messages also contain derogatory statements about LatinX people and LGBTQ+ people.
“These two men and their band of friends planned, organized and targeted that mural,” Mahan said.
Paying restitution, Mahan said, is “literally the least they can do.”
“Everyone is here because of the impact and the damage done to our community,” he said. “And it’s clear that some people still have fear, even after this has all happened, and I actually think the true impact probably will never be expressed or seen in our community, and I hope that this brings a small amount of closure and appreciation that justice can be possible.”