Five vandals who desecrated and destroyed a statue of Saint Junipero Serra at a California church recently had all of their charges reduced from felonies to misdemeanors because they participated in “an innovative restorative justice solution,” the Marin County District Attorney’s Office stated.
In October 2020, five protesters defaced a statue at Saint Raphael Catholic Church in San Rafael, California, with red spray paint before tearing it down.
The perpetrators were charged with felony vandalism in November 2020. On Thursday, the Marin County District Attorney’s Office announced that the felony charges had been reduced to misdemeanors.
District Attorney Lori E. Frugoli reached the resolution “after a thorough case review by prosecutors and a long discussion among church members, community members, legal counsel for the defendants and the defendants’ participation in the Restorative Justice Process guided by Rochelle Edwards of the Transformative Justice Institute.”
The vandals were ordered to pay the church for the damages, complete 50 hours of community service, write an apology, participate in a community forum, and stay off church property.
“It is the District Attorney’s Office’s goal to achieve a fair result on all cases, and I strongly believe justice was served on this one,” Frugoli stated. “While this issue has raised emotions because of the sensitivities around religion, community boundaries, and historic inequities, the fact is that a resolution through accountability has been reached through restorative justice and that is a victory for this community.”
In preparation for the October protest, the church maintenance worker covered the statue in duct tape and boarded up windows, the Catholic News Agency reported.
The outlet reported that “masked rioters” removed the tape and spray-painted the statue before tearing it from its foundation.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, there have been at least 255 attacks on Catholic churches since May 2020.
In a letter to Frugoli, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone stated that he is “disturbed but not surprised” by the DA’s decision to reduce the charges.
“I have seen this happen too many times before. We are promised justice and equal treatment, only to have our legitimate concerns dismissed, and we ourselves treated as unworthy of consideration,” Cordileone wrote.
He stated that during the vandal’s attack on the church, the San Rafael Police Department was instructed by a “higher authority” not to intervene while the felony crime was being committed.
Cordileone asked, “Who gave the order to the police officers not to do their sworn duty, for which they put their lives on the line every day? Why has there been no investigation? Why has the person responsible for this injustice not been held accountable?”
He said he believes the vandals would have been charged with a hate crime if they had perpetrated the same crimes “against certain other minority and vulnerable groups of people.”
“Nonetheless, I withheld comment on the rejection of hate crime charges, even though there have been more than 100 attacks on Catholic Church property across the nation, including in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, one of which was someone firing a bullet into our Cathedral,” Cordileone added.
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