Wheatland brothers convicted of delaying Yuba County deputy
After deliberating a little more than one hour Thursday, a Yuba County jury convicted two Wheatland brothers of misdemeanor delaying a peace officer in connection with a public anti-tax stunt last year.
Jurors unanimously convicted Benjamin and Russell Bartholomew in connection with the April 28, 2011, incident in which the duo posted a 20-foot banner on the Highway 70 overpass at Erle Road that read: “Taxes = Theft.”
“I’m surprised because it seemed clear what the law was, but apparently the jury wants people to answer police questions no matter what,” Benjamin Bartholomew, 27, said afterwards. “It essentially makes California a ‘stop-and-identify’ state, even though that’s not the law.”
The two-hour trial concluded around 11:20 a.m. The eight-women, four-man jury deliberated about one hour, not including a one-hour lunch break, before handing down the verdict on the charge around 1:30 p.m.
Russell Bartholomew, 23, said he was “generally disappointed.”
“I don’t think the jury understood the law correctly,” Russell Bartholomew said.
Juror Roman Ontiveros said the jury believed the brothers should have simply cooperated with Yuba County sheriff’s Deputy Kenny Sowles when questioned last year.
“I think (the Bartholomews) should’ve just let it go,” Ontiveros said. “The bigger issue of free speech is a hot topic, it’s important to think about, but, at some point, we all need to watch where we walk.”
Ontiveros said the jury’s decision was “easy” and said the brothers should have “used better judgment” when dealing with law enforcement.
Rick Daugherty, another juror, said the only difficulty he had voting to convict was the fact that, as a Wheatland resident himself, he knows the family and said he believes the Bartholomews are “good kids” from “a wonderful family.”
“But, we felt they should’ve cooperated with the officer,” Daugherty said. “They were told they were doing two things wrong and were asked for their identification.”
Sowles told the brothers there were laws against hanging their sign on state property and wearing masks to conceal their identities. Sowles testified Thursday that he now knows he was not correct at the time, but Daugherty said that didn’t matter as much to jurors.
“Whether or not it was true, we felt they should’ve cooperated,” Daugherty said.
Yuba County Deputy District Attorney Mike Byrne said he was pleased with the verdict.
“We’ve always said this was never about the First Amendment,” Byrne said.
Byrne said he supports the Bartholomews right to protest, but suggested they were protesting to the wrong people.
“Protest to (legislators), not the blue collar cop just doing his job; he can’t do anything about it anyway,” Byrne said. “You don’t pick on the help. You go to the boss.”
Despite Thursday’s conviction, the issue is anything but over.
Defense attorney Paul Boylan said an appeal is being considered, but also said he believes the state legislature should get involved.
“The jury didn’t understand that you have the right not to answer police questions and believed you should cooperate regardless of the fact that you have the right to say no,” Boylan said. “And I think we should go to the legislature because the law is very unclear on this issue.”
Boylan said the law “implies” a person has the right not to be interrogated unless the officer has probable cause to suspect a crime.
“But, the law needs to state that explicitly,” Boylan said.
The Bartholomews drew a handful of supporters from all over northern California, including Chris Aahz from Fremont. He learned about the case through the media and came to show his support for the Bartholomews. Aahz said he was upset with the verdict.
“Basically I heard them say that if a cop asks, you answer no matter what and, to me, that’s the definition of a police state,” Aahz said.
The brothers face a maximum term of one year in jail and $1,000 fine. They are due back in court April 19 for sentencing.
CONTACT Rob Parsons at email@example.com or 749-4785. Find him on Facebook at /ADcrimebeat or on Twitter at @ADcrimebeat.