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Harassment of local activist continues as city tries to put an end to Last Night DIY Parade

by Red Hill Legal Support
Wes Modes targeted as city tries to put an end to Last Night DIY parade
SANTA CRUZ, CA-- When local activist Wes Modes accepted a misdemeanor plea deal in December 2009 for his part in defending the Farmer's Market Drum Circle, he figured that would be the end of it. A year suspended sentence and some community service. No problem, he thought. Now the Santa Cruz District Attorney is saying that Modes violated his plea agreement by organizing the Last Night DIY parade. Here's the thing: Modes did not organize that event in 2009.

According to Last Night participants, the new infraction is the latest in a series of police harassment that Wes has received since outing police infiltrators in 2005. "Wes is being unjustly targeted for being an outspoken critic of the Santa Cruz Police Department. He's being singled out from a crowd of community organizers, facilitators and participants. It goes completely against the community spirit of this Santa Cruz celebration," said parade participant Grant Wilson. Now Modes' freedom hinges on a minor code violation for participating in a parade celebrated by the entire Santa Cruz community.

Before the Last Night Do-It-Yourself parade, the city of Santa Cruz sponsored First Night Santa Cruz, an expensive New Year's Eve event that sputtered out in 2004 due to lack of funds. In 2005, Modes and some of friends decided to pick up where First Night left off--and do it cheaper. They put out a call for performers and announced a DIY parade that would meet at one end of Pacific and march to the other. They also eschewed the city permits, which accounted for half of the official First Night budget.

When the police caught wind of the plans for the event, they sent undercover officers to infiltrate the organizing meetings for three months. Records released after the incident revealed a pattern of abuses, including infiltrating parade organizers, monitoring other unrelated groups and first amendment activities, and compiling dossiers of organizers. The city's own police auditor concluded that police had violated the civil rights of citizens and, under pressure from Modes and the ACLU, the city adapted guidelines on SCPD undercover activities.

The celebration was a great success and Last Night quickly became a Santa Cruz tradition. Families line Pacific to watch the parade, which is filled with musicians, puppets, jugglers and unicyclers. The event provided a safe and free way for locals to enjoy downtown on New Year's Eve. All the event details, including clean up and traffic control, is taken care of by the participants of the event. According to Modes, "neither I nor any of the original organizers have done anything to organize the parade in years, other than occasionally updating the website. The parade is an example of communities coming together to create a diverse and interesting celebration without the help of the city, businesses, or institutions."

No one has ever been cited for organizing or participating in the event. Until now. Many people have been public about their part in creating the event, but Modes alone received a citation in the mail for "conducting a non-commercial event without a permit." Though in recent years, city council member Mike Rotkin and the SCPD have grumbled about the organizers not paying for permits, the celebration has always been peaceful and joyous. In fact, in 2007, then Deputy Police Chief Patty Sapone commented on Last Night, saying "The city is very quiet. . . We haven’t had any major problems."

Because the charge is an infraction, Wes is not eligible for a public defender nor a jury trial. The judge refused Wes' request for a pretrial hearing and time to prepare and scheduled the trial for May 14th. This means that Wes has one month to raise money for a lawyer and prepare for trial. Wes may lose his freedom for helping to create an event celebrated by the entire Santa Cruz community.

Ways to support Wes:
  • Come to Wes' court date on May 14th at 1:30pm
  • Help raise money for a good lawyer, possible fines, and other legal costs
  • Write a letter talking about your own self-organized participation in the parade
For more information see the Red Hill Legal Support website or email redhill [at] riseup [dot] net.
Add Your Comments

Comments (Hide Comments)
by On the "half budget" statement
Your post says that Wes and Co. skipped out on paying city permits, "They also eschewed the city permits, which accounted for half of the official First Night budget. ".

But the City never charged First Night for their permits. Metro S.C. 2004 reports "The truth is that the budget for First Night this year is a mere $120,000, more than half of which comes from the city of Santa Cruz in the form of fee waivers.". So while those permits might have accounted for half of a paper budget, they in fact cost $0 in actual cost, 0% of monies spent on producing First night.

Cty permit fees aren't a valid reason to blame for the death of the First Night program, and may not be valid grounds for Wes's rationale for never getting a permit.

Did he ever ask for one? Did he ask for a waiver? My guess is no; he followed his espoused anarchist agenda and said to hell with it. And so now, reality bites back.
by (a)
he didn't take part in organizing the protest.
by berkeley bill
"Protest". Where does it say anything about a protest? We're talking about a PARADE, (A).

by duh
Parades and protests are protected first amendment speech.
by Red Hill
Red Hill Legal Support is handling the legal defense fund. The link is along the right menu, and says "Donate to the Wes Modes Legal Fund"

We're projecting that this will cost about $2000 for lawyer, fees, fines, etc. We'll beat this and make it difficult for the city to harass people for taking responsibility for their own lives.
by Bruce Holloway
It's hypocritical and ironic that Mayor Mike Rotkin complains about the informal DIY parade on Pacific Ave., but evidently supported the protest on High St. last month at which masked participants blocked traffic for hours and broke a windshield. SCPD did nothing to suppress that disruption or arrest those who damaged property and Rotkin addressed his students at noon to express his solidarity. Apparently any goon squad with a Rotkin-approved "message" has a license to break the law while all others face fines or jail.
by student
if you want to talk about a goon squad, talk about the administrators (and the police who back them up) who are shaking down students and staff with $1000 fines for participating in protest. rotkin, who teaches at the university, has yet to make even a gesture of support.
I received my court-ordered 16 page discovery packet from the city attorney this weekend.

I was preparing myself to read seemingly damning material taken wildly out of context, but I was really surprised. In short, the discovery has basically zero evidence that I organized or helped organize the parade. In fact, in the evidence, many other people appear up front about their involvement in the parade. Though not particularly relevant to the question of my guilt or innocence, it is really clear they targeted me because of the drum circle plea deal hanging over my head.

One interesting thing is that the discovery talks about people with flashlights redirecting traffic. Ha! I have NO idea who these people were. I think that is great! People just took it upon themselves to do what they thought was useful, helpful, and important. How bitchin is that?

This is going to be great. If I had to put money on it and assuming that the city attorney is rational, I'd guess they'll drop the charges before this over. But then that assumes that the city manager and attorney are rational and not blinded by bitter vindictiveness.

A press release was issued last Thursday that wasn't picked up by any media. One thing that would help would be you called local media and asked why they haven't picked up the story. Here's the release:
by Red Hill Legal Support

Guerilla Drive-In Presents

To Kill a Mockingbird
Dinner and a Movie

Sunday May 2nd 7pm

at the Resource Center for Nonviolence
515 Broadway, Santa Cruz
$5-20 suggested donation

A Benefit for the legal fund of Wes Modes
Wes is being charged with "organizing an unpermitted event" for the 2009 Last Night Parade.  Last Night is a spontanteous, self-organized New Year's Eve parade that hundreds of people have celebrated in downtown Santa Cruz every year since 2005.

For more information, visit
by Wes
According to Jim Brown of the Sentinel:

Thanks ... so, according to the police report and John Barisone, Whitney Wilde and
Curtis Reliford were also cited in connection with this past year's DIY parade. You
said you believed you were the only one cited. Did you not check with these folks?

Both Whitney and Reliford were mentioned in the police report, but as recently as yesterday, Whitney had not been charged. I got my ticket more than a month ago. None of the other people who were public about their involvement in the parade were charged either.

After the Sentinel reporter's inquiry to Barisone, my lawyer called the city attorney, who suddenly said I wasn't being charged with organizing the parade, but participating in the parade. My court documents, the court, and the county clerk say differently, Santa Cruz municipal code violation 10.65.030(a) "Conducting a Non-Commercial Event Without a Permit." Now they change their story? I'll believe it when I see it, I guess.

Perhaps the power of the pen is mightier then the city attorney's power to dish out arbitrary infractions?
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