Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias will not face charges for a May 12 altercation with protesters led by conservative activist Ben Bergquam at Arias’ downtown condominium.
“The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office has reached the legal conclusion that the prosecution cannot disprove that Mr. Arias used reasonable force to eject trespassers from the private residential property. As a result, battery charges will not be filed in this case.” — Fresno County DA Lisa Smittcamp
The incident, captured on several videos and posted to the internet, found several people at Arias’s doorstep protesting the city’s shelter-in-place orders.
The video showed Arias poking protesters in the stairwell that led to his second-floor unit. He is also seen knocking a phone out of the hand of a protester.
Police were called, and the protesters filled out a citizen’s arrest form. Arias was cited by police but not detained.
In a news release on Thursday afternoon, District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp announced Arias will face no charges.
“The District Attorney’s decision to not pursue the baseless claims made by out of town agitators, was the right one,” Arias said. “These individuals came to my home specifically to provoke a confrontation and in the process threaten my family’s safety. They used a real health and economic crisis to gain media attention for themselves. I am pleased that local leaders and residents of all political ideologies see right through these reckless tactics and recognize that Fresno is better than that.”
Protesters Arrive at Arias Home
Bergquam, who also operates his own media group called Frontline America, led at least five others to Arias’ home, filming the incident. Arias is heard telling the protesters to leave. The video shows Arias shoving Jason Phillips on the staircase.
Several of the protesters filmed the incident and distributed it on social media.
The police arrived and the protesters, growing in number, stayed on the sidewalk outside the gated complex.
In media interviews after the incident, Arias said Bergquam and his group pounded at his door prior to the video starting.
Later that evening, the group went to the northeast Fresno home of Mayor Lee Brand. In videos posted on the internet, Brand met the protesters outside his home and had a cordial conversation about the shelter-in-place order. There was no physicality involved.
Many Defend Arias
The video quickly went viral, and many in Fresno from all political stripes defended Arias. They called for criminal charges against the protesters, alleging tresspassing.
Arias had support from his base, as well as conservative councilman Garry Bredefeld. The two have been known to butt heads over ideological issues.
Michael Der Manouel Jr., a conservative commentator and often ideological opponent of Arias, condemned the protesters’ actions. He praised Smittcamp’s decision on Twitter (seen below).
The right decision. Elected officials deserve their space at home. https://t.co/csCnWhtRVk
— Anonymous Lincoln (@LincolnFresno) July 2, 2020
“I am glad we can put this unfortunate incident behind us and hope that these agitators got the message that they will not distract me or my colleagues from the important task of protecting our city’s health and safety during this pandemic,” Arias said.
Protesters Considering Legal Action
Bergquam and the other protesters in the video disagreed with Smittcamp’s decision not to file.
“It’s not surprising that the DA capitulated. This is the kind of injustice Americans should be concerned about — political privilege that protects lying violent thugs like Arias,” Bergquam said. “What we need is equal justice under the law, not special treatment for some Democrat scumbags. That’s why I do what I do. I believe someday people like Arias will be held accountable because of the work that journalists like me and others are doing to expose this hypocrisy. Until then, we will continue to fight for this country against the enemies within. God bless America.”
Phillips said he will consider legal action.
“It’s incredibly unfortunate that an elected official can get away with physically assaulting individuals. As the video clearly shows, Arias on several occasions touched all three of us in a harmful and offensive manner. Arias has been planting seeds of division against the district attorney for quite some time that in the event he was charged, he would have his tweets as proof that the DA is biased,” Phillips said. “Unfortunately, the DA has sent a message that this behavior is acceptable. Miguel is volatile, belligerent, and fraudulent individual who stains the council and the city of Fresno. The positive in this is that his true character has been exposed.”
Smittcamp Explains Her Decision
However, the evidence presented was not enough to convince Smittcamp to file charges.
Smittcamp’s office investigated Arias for misdemeanor battery.
“The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Arias touched his accusers in a harmful or offensive manner. Additionally, because this incident transpired at Mr. Arias’ residence within a private gated community and involved uninvited or unescorted persons, the prosecution must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Arias exceeded his lawful right to use reasonable force to remove trespassers from the private residential property,” Smittcamp said in a news release Thursday.
“The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office has reached the legal conclusion that the prosecution cannot disprove that Mr. Arias used reasonable force to eject trespassers from the private residential property. As a result, battery charges will not be filed in this case,” Smittcamp said.