No jail time for protesting Wheatland brothers
Two Wheatland brothers asked for leniency Thursday and received the lightest sentence possible for delaying a peace officer last year during an anti-tax protest.
Benjamin and Russell Bartholomew will spend the next six months on informal probation. Yuba County Judge Stephen W. Berrier also ordered them to pay a $70 fine for court costs.
The political activists said they were pleased with the minimal sentence, but still believe a Yuba County jury wrongly convicted them of the misdemeanor offense earlier this month.
"We accepted that activism carries certain risks," Russell Bartholomew said prior to sentencing. "And despite our best efforts to follow the law, I believe the system has let me down."
Mike Byrne, a deputy district attorney, requested the Bartholomews not receive jail time and referred to their conviction as "a soft delay."
"I think it's appropriate for probation," Byrne said.
Benjamin Bartholomew lamented his conviction and appeared to lay the groundwork for an appeal in his statement to the judge.
"The jury made it very clear that, in Yuba County, if a peace officer asks you for identification, you must provide it whether or not you are being detained and even if you have no reason to think you are," he said. "We now know that whenever a peace officer asks you questions, you must presume you are being detained. If not, you may end up in jail."
The brothers' father, Cory Bartholomew, a U.S. Air Force major, told the judge he "could not be prouder" of his sons.
"I have flown combat sorties in both Gulf Wars and during the Kosovo conflict. Between those wars, I've flown other missions that were even more hazardous," Cory Bartholomew said. "And yet, I honestly believe that Benjamin and Russell have done more to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States in the last 18 months than I have during my career."
Byrne has consistently refuted defense claims about free speech, saying the First Amendment was never part of the case.
Applause broke out after Benjamin Bartholomew concluded his remarks, causing bailiffs to remove two people from the courtroom for the disturbance. Former Marysville Councilman Ron Gless was removed for applauding, as was Sam Pierce, a court reporter from the Notable Trials blog. Pierce later denied applauding or causing any disturbance.
Sentencing came almost exactly one year after the Bartholomews' arrest April 27, 2011, by Yuba County sheriff's Deputy Kenny Sowles. The arrests followed a confrontation with law enforcement at the Highway 70 overpass near Erle Road where the brothers had affixed a 20-foot banner reading "Taxes = Theft."
At the time of the arrest, Sowles told both men they were being charged with wearing masks to conceal their identities during the course of a crime.
During the trial earlier this month, Sowles testified that he now knows he was incorrect regarding that law at that time.
Prosecutors dropped the mask-wearing charge, but added the misdemeanor count of delaying a peace officer. The brothers were convicted after a two-day trial by a jury that believed the Bartholomews delayed Sowles' duties by not providing identification when first asked.
Benjamin Bartholomew on Thursday restated his belief that no laws were broken and noted that he repeatedly asked Sowles if he was being detained and was never given an answer.
"Our question was ignored," Bartholomew said Thursday. "We did not know we were being detained."
Video footage of the incident has been posted on YouTube for nearly a year. Much of the video evidence was excluded from the trial.
Defense attorney Paul N. Boylan declined to say if an appeal would be filed, but acknowledged the possibility is under consideration.
CONTACT Rob Parsons at email@example.com or 749-4785. Find him on Facebook at /ADcrimebeat or on Twitter at @ADcrimebeat.