One of six demonstrators accused of marring the Riverside Historic Courthouse with graffiti during an abortion rights protest, causing thousands of dollars in damage, pleaded not guilty Thursday to felony vandalism.
Aida Yagmur Aston, 32, allegedly joined Alexander Jacob Castro, 23, Kamile Dincsoy, 48, Alexandria Ty Fite, 32, Elise Saramarielle Kelder, 28, and Oliver Edu Solares Herrera, 24, last July in using paint to leave handprints on walls, doors and pillars of the downtown courthouse.
Aston was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Charles Koosed, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for April 20 at the Riverside Hall of Justice. The defendant is free on a $10,000 bond.
Aston and Dincsoy were additionally charged in connection with similar offenses allegedly perpetrated earlier by the same group.
Dincsoy is at large, with an outstanding felony warrant for her arrest.
Castro, Fite, Kelder and Herrera were arraigned in October, all pleading not guilty to felony vandalism. They’re scheduled to appear with Aston in April.
Like her, each defendant is free on bail.
According to sheriff’s officials and prosecutors, the parties were part of the “Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights” protest on the evening of July 30.
The defendants allegedly dipped their palms in green paint and then smeared it on external surfaces of the century-old courthouse, which was closed, to express their opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling upended Roe v. Wade, enabling states to limit or outright prohibit abortion, without federal interference.
The decision did not force the closure of abortion clinics anywhere in California.
Castro, Fite, Kelder and Herrera were taken into custody without incident by deputies, who provide security for all courthouses countywide.
During the ensuing sheriff’s investigation, Aston, Dincsoy and Fite were identified as alleged culprits in another Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights demonstration that resulted in graffiti damage to the courthouse on July 9, according to the District Attorney’s Office. They were charged based on that discovery.
According to prosecutors, the July 9 protest caused $4,000 damage, and the July 30 protest resulted in more than $13,000 damage.
“The public has a right to peacefully protest and express their political views,” D.A. Mike Hestrin said. “I am committed to protecting these rights … But when peaceful protesters turn violent or begin to vandalize and damage or destroy property, their actions can no longer be considered a peaceful protest. We cannot and will not tolerate vandalism and destruction of any property in Riverside County.”
None of the six defendants has prior felony convictions in Riverside County, though Fite has a prior misdemeanor conviction for reckless driving.
During the July 30 demonstration, Riverside City Councilwoman Clarissa Cervantes was present and was recorded on a Riverside police officer’s body-worn camera inquiring as to the goings-on around the courthouse.
Sheriff Chad Bianco posted a Facebook message the next day, saying “Shame on the Riverside city councilwoman for supporting the defacing of our courthouse. You are lucky we couldn’t arrest you.”
Bianco updated the post later, specifically naming Cervantes, who filed a libel lawsuit against the sheriff in September, alleging Bianco willfully mischaracterized her position, saying she “did not provide support of any kind to any individual or group … involved in the protest.”
Cervantes stated that she “happened to be in the downtown area with friends” at the time, though she didn’t specify the reasons. Most businesses are closed in the immediate vicinity of the courthouse on weekends. The councilwoman alleged that Bianco’s writings were “false and defamatory,” causing “harm to her reputation,” according to the lawsuit.
Bianco issued a statement soon afterward, stating “If she hadn’t been supporting these groups, she wouldn’t have to spend so much time in damage control for showing up at their protest.”
“This is nothing more than a typical politician trying to gain media attention to further her political career,” the sheriff said.
A hearing on the suit is tentatively set for March.