BART protesters ask judge to dismiss charges against them

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU and wires) -- Attorneys for 14 protesters who shut down the West Oakland BART station for several hours on the day after Thanksgiving asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss the charges against them, arguing that they are overbroad and too vague.

Walter Reilly, the lead attorney for the protesters, who call themselves the "Black Friday 14," said at a brief hearing that the statute under which the demonstrators were arrested is so unclear that it allows police officers to arrest "someone they don't like or if someone is too dark or too black."

Reilly asked, "If the protesters go to the platform at the BART station to talk to people, are they violating the law?"

He alleged that the statute is "arbitrary and capricious."

On Nov. 28, more than two dozen black activists chained themselves to two trains at the West Oakland BART station, shutting down service for more than three hours.

The protest was one of many in the Bay Area and across the nation in which people demonstrated against several highly publicized incidents last year in which white police officers killed black men.

The 14 people who were arrested are charged with one misdemeanor count of suspicion of trespassing on railroad property.

Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Micheal O'Connor said the charges against the protesters shouldn't be dismissed because they are based on "terms we all understand and are easy for police officers to understand."

O'Connor said, "Any officer would know it's not unlawful to talk to people but would know that it is unlawful to chain yourself to trains and block thousands of riders."

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Northridge said she will take the matter under submission and issue a written ruling soon.

She set another hearing for March 18 in the event that she denied the motion to dismiss the case and keeps the charges intact.

At Wednesday's hearing, Assistant District Attorney Mike Nieto said his office reserves the right to seek restitution for any economic losses suffered by victims but at this point no one has come forward to claim that they suffered any economic loss.

The protesters initially said BART was seeking $70,000 in restitution and launched a petition drive in response.

Following the outcry, BART general manager Grace Crunican said last month that she was interested in community service or restorative justice programs as an alternative to restitution and said she spoke to District Attorney Nancy O'Malley about that possibility.