SANTA CRUZ — Much was discussed but no decision was made Thursday by Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati regarding the return of the vandalized Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Santa Cruz.
Members of the public struggled to find a free seat in the courtroom where lawyers’ arguments continued for the two men accused of defacing the Center Street mural last summer. Brandon Bochat, 21, and Hagan Warner, 20, were arrested last July on suspicion of criminal vandalism and were later charged with an additional hate crime and misdemeanor reckless driving.
The incident involved several rounds of burnouts in which the defendants are accused of taking turns driving Warner’s truck into the face of the mural, which left long dark tire tracks on its lettering bright yellow. Bochat and Warner previously pleaded not guilty to the charges. Warner was present in the courtroom on Thursday while Bochat was not.
In a previous hearing, Assistant Santa Cruz City Attorney Cassie Bronson provided the court with an estimated cost to restore the mural of $103,000 to $114,000 and Cogliati said he was unlikely to order a reduced fine to obtain a less costly remedy. The defense disputed this figure and the parties met again to argue their case in the hope of arriving at a final figure.
The only witness was Abi Mustapha, who introduced herself as the “initiator” of the project and is also a member of the Santa Cruz Equity Collab which helped organize and facilitate the construction of the mural. Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan began the first line of questions, which mostly revolved around the creation of the mural, the specific artistic steps required, and the costs incurred in creating the artwork.
Mustapha, who is an artist herself, listed the various steps needed to complete the project, including city permits, street measurements, selection of permitted paint, organization of events, and multiple stenciling and painting phases of the letters themselves. She said the planning for the project took several months and many people involved did not charge a fee. The mural also requires annual restoration work, the first round of which was carried out just weeks before the vandalism.
“We all did it as an in-kind donation,” she said. “We don’t do these things just to make them look pretty all the time.”
Taylor Reinhold is a local artist and he and his team named “Made Fresh Crew” led the actual artistic execution of the project. Mustapha felt that Reinhold could have reasonably charged $35 to $40 per square foot for the project, but ended up doing it for free. According to defense attorneys, the mural measures 2,750 square feet.
“People saw it as a safe place,” Mustapha said of the mural. “The value of art is rarely, if ever, based on the value of supplies or expense. It’s not just paint on the street.
Mahan concluded by asking Mustapha what a justified outcome might look like for the defendants. “I would like to see them repaint the mural,” she said.
Defense attorney Micha Rinkus began her own round of questioning by presenting Mustapha with photos of various murals Reinhold had painted in Santa Cruz County. She asked Mustapha if she thought Reinhold would charge different prices for projects that required different layers of color and detail. Mustapha said she didn’t know, but for her personal work, she sometimes takes these factors into consideration when billing a client.
Cogliati closed the hearing by confirming that no decision would be made on Thursday. The next hearing is scheduled for July 25 at 9 a.m., where restitution will be discussed in more detail.