San Mateo Bridge shutdown protesters appear in court

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KTVU and wires) -- The first group of protesters arrested during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day action that shut down the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge appeared in San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City this week on misdemeanor charges, according to prosecutors.

A total of 68 protestors, part of a Stanford University group calling itself Silicon Shutdown affiliated with the "Black Lives Matter" movement, were arrested after they failed to leave the bridge when ordered to do so, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The group, which said it was honoring King's legacy and marching in response to the controversial Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, in Ferguson, Missouri, called for an end to police brutality and the demilitarization of local law enforcement. It carried a Palestinian flag "as a symbol of global struggles for justice," organizers said.

All 68 of those arrested have been charged with obstructing the roadway, a misdemeanor, and will be tried separately, in part because the county cannot accommodate all of them in one trial, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Tuesday.

A total of ten of those defendants, the first ten to be arrested, appeared in court Monday and Tuesday, with others scheduled to appear on various dates in late March, Wagstaffe said.

All pleaded not guilty and most were assigned public defenders and ordered to return for trial dates in May and June, Wagstaffe said.

Two defendants Tuesday appeared with private attorneys, and one, Elliot Williams, appeared with well-known Bay Area attorney John Burris, known for his work in police shooting and brutality cases.

Burris said he had been brought into the case on the request of the family, but because the charge filed is a misdemeanor, an associate in his office will probably handle the case.

CHP officials said after the arrests that there were four confirmed collisions involving property damage or minor injuries during the protest, which shut down all lanes on the bridge for at least 25 minutes. Anecdotally, there were several others handled by the parties involved with little or no CHP involvement, according to CHP spokesman Daniel Hill.

Manny Thompson, a Silicon Shutdown group member and organizer, said the group has made some efforts to help those arrested organize transportation to the court, learn their legal rights and talk to lawyers where appropriate.