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California men face hate crime charges for allegedly doing burnouts on Black Lives Matter street mural

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Sanat Cruz Police Department

Two men will face hate crime charges for allegedly vandalizing a Black Lives Matter mural in Santa Cruz, California. The young men are also charged with felony vandalism and reckless driving for purportedly doing burnouts on a street mural that says, "Black Lives Matter."

Brandon Bochat, 20, and Hagan Warner, 19, are accused of doing two burnouts that left tire marks over the yellow-painted Black Lives Matter mural on July 23. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported, "Both men admitted the acts to the authorities but pleaded not guilty in July."

Warner admitted that he had been drinking on that day and didn't remember going to the BLM mural, according to Santa Cruz Police Department Officer Elliot Rock.

"[He told me] next thing he knew, there was a burnout and yellow smoke," Officer Rock reportedly told the court. Warner thought the yellow paint was for the crosswalk, according to Rock.

Bochat then drove the truck and made a fishtail pattern on the mural that left tire marks spanning 208 feet, according to SCPD Detective Dominique Hohmann.

The attorneys for the two California men did not dispute the acts of vandalism, but are fighting against the hate crime charges. Bochat and Warner denied any racial motivation for vandalizing the mural, but instead said it was a political act against the Black Lives Matter movement.

"BLM is not a protected group, it is a political organization. It is very of the moment, very important and very popular movement right now," Bochat’s attorney, Micha Rinkus, said. "If this act was done towards animus of a racial group, that is one thing. The act was political."

Warner’s attorney – Jeffrey Stotter – argued the burnout stunt was fueled by "stupidity and alcohol." Stotter added that the defacement of the public property was "not based on hate for any ethnic group or people of African descent."

Both men say they have no hatred for black people or any other minority group.

Santa Cruz County Prosecutor Michael Mahan said, "To say this is them being boys doing something stupid truly minimizes what happened. There are other ways to make a political statement."

During the preliminary hearing, Mahan submitted video evidence from a Snapchat account that showed Bochat driving the truck with Warner and three male minors inside the vehicle.

"The other boys in the car yelled racial slurs as the vehicle drove away," according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "Warner is seen in the back yelling 'white power,' as he and the other boys enact the Nazi salute."

The media outlet also notes that a Jan. 16 video shows Bochat driving on a highway while "holding a firearm which the court was unable to determine was real or fake."

"He proceeded to point the gun at another car in front of him and one lane to the left and make racial remarks while continuing to drive," the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

Mahan concluded that there is an "ongoing pattern of behavior" with Bochat, adding, "There’s not many times that would be contextually OK to say."

The estimated cost for repairs to the Black Lives Matter mural is approximately $115,000, according to Sean McGowen from the Santa Cruz Equity Collaboration — an organization that attempts to "bring awareness to the inequities in our community while bringing humanness to the process of becoming more equitable." The ongoing cost of the mural has been $216,206, according to McGowen.

The two defendants are set to return to court for their arraignment on Jan. 5.

In July 2020, two California residents were charged with hate crimes for allegedly painting over a Black Lives Matter street mural.

In August 2021, a Florida man accused of leaving car skid marks on a gay pride crosswalk in Delray Beach was not hit with an enhanced hate crime charge despite pressure from LGBTQ groups.

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