What will happen to protesters who were arrested in the Bay Area?

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza took over several highways in the Bay Area on Monday.

The protests come five months after protesters blocked off the Bay Bridge. Eighty people were charged for those protests, 78 of whom made a deal with prosecutors to do five hours of community service and pay more than $4,000 in restitution to avoid criminal charges.

So what will happen to Monday’s protesters?

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Many will have to fight misdemeanors and citations in court, but some could even be charged with a felony. KRON4 spoke with a former prosecutor who says these charges make it seem like CHP is cracking down on protests like these hard.

“I implore people, please protest, we are here to protect your right to protest. But you cannot block roadways. You cannot keep emergency personnel whether it’s ambulance, law enforcement, fire department from getting out to assist other people,” said CHP Chief Don Goodbrand.

Hundreds of people disrupted traffic for hours at three different locations in the Bay Area on Monday. Twenty-six people got arrested after blocking all lanes on the Golden Gate Bridge. Seven people got arrested on I-880 in Oakland after a group locked their arms into 280-pound concrete barrels in the middle of traffic lanes. At the 7th Street exit of I-880, hundreds of protesters walked onto the freeway, and five people got arrested there.

CHP says the protesters now face a slew of charges, the most serious being conspiracy to commit a crime and false imprisonment. That surprised legal expert Steven Clark.

“The CHP is obviously taking this very seriously,” he said. “With these arrests suggesting conspiracy that could elevate these charges to a felony.”

Clark says the conspiracy charge could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony.

“I think what the CHP did today was give the DA’s office a lot to work with in terms of a charging decision. It’ll ultimately be up to the DA to make this charging decision,” he said.

The protesters on the Golden Gate Bridge will be prosecuted by the San Francisco district attorney, and the protesters in the East Bay will be prosecuted by the Alameda County district attorney. Clark says it might be hard to prove the false imprisonment charges.

“Certainly you can argue that protesters by shutting down access on the bridge, you are imprisoning the drivers. At the same time, those drivers could have got out of the car and left. I’m not sure that imprisonment charge would hold up in trial,” he said.

Clark says this will overall be a challenge in court when the defense argues for protesters’ First Amendment rights.

“I think it’ll be a difficult call for the DA on how to handle these cases because this is a progressive community. We do respect the right of free speech but at the same time we don’t want to see public safety jeopardized,” Clark said.

KRON4 reached out to both the district attorneys in Alameda County and San Francisco, and it’s too soon to say what charges they will pursue. Clark believes they will look to see if any of the protesters arrested today were involved in the protest that shut down the Bay Bridge five months ago during the APEC conference. He says that could enhance charges.

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