Seven counter-protesters have been charged with attacking members of the Ku Klux Klan during a so-called " rally that turned into a bloody melee in Anaheim earlier this year, prosecutors said Thursday.
The demonstrators were all charged with misdemeanor assault or battery or resisting arrest, according to a statement issued by the Orange County district attorney's office.
"This case is not about who was holding the protest rally, their racist message, or who was counter-protesting. This is about the mob mentality turning violent, which shut down neighboring streets, access to the park, and endangered the community as a whole," Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said in a statement. "Our office does not condone any message of hate, mob violence, or vigilante justice."
News that a small group of Klan members planned to hold a rally in Pearson Park drew a large crowd of counter-protesters to the scene on Feb. 28. More than 50 demonstrators arrived at the park around 10 a.m. and spent two hours speaking out against racism, police brutality and other issues during what started as a peaceful event.
But chaos erupted when seven Klan members arrived at the park around noon.
Counter-protesters swarmed the Klan members, setting off a series of brawls up and down West Cypress Street. Three demonstrators were stabbed, while blood stained the sidewalk next to the Klan member's vehicle.
The seven people charged were: Hugo Contreras, 28, of Hawthorne; Randy Felder, 26, of Lakewood; Guy Harris, 20, of Anaheim; Mark Liddell, 26, of Los Angeles; Armando Ortiz, 22, of Santa Ana; Nicole Schop, 24, of Los Angeles; and Alexis Solis, 23, who was identified as a transient.
Prosecutors said Ortiz was among those stabbed. Ortiz and Harris were allegedly fighting with one of the Klan members, identified only as "Charles D.," when Ortiz was stabbed under the arm with a pocket knife, according to the statement from the district attorney's office.
Anaheim Police had previously identified the Klan member who stabbed the protesters as Charles Donner, 51. Donner was initially booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, according to Sgt. Darron Wyatt, a city police spokesman. He was later released after police determined he acted in self-defense.
Prosecutors are still searching for an eighth suspect who was seen kicking a Klansman in a video of the incident.
Witnesses said the Klansmen used the point of a flagpole as a weapon while fighting with protesters. Police also said knives were used.
Thomas Kielty, an attorney representing Contreras, Schop and Liddell, said his clients were simply trying to detain a Klan member who had stabbed one of the demonstrators.
Kielty was one of several people who previously criticized the Anaheim Police Department's response to the rally. Despite having advance knowledge of the controversial event, the department did not appear to have a detail of uniformed officers at the park on the morning of the incident. Video of the incident shows Anaheim police cruisers arriving at the scene minutes after the stabbings took place.
"My clients were not there when the stabbing happened, they had started to leave, and apparently all hell broke loose and they saw people stabbed, bleeding, on the ground," Kielty told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. "People were saying the Klansmen stabbed these protesters and then the police are there just sort of chit-chatting with these guys."
to The Times. "Self Defense must be reasonable. If [someone] tries to punch me I cannot shoot him and claim self-defense. A knife attack against unarmed protesters ... is not lawful, even if the unarmed counter-protester is throwing a punch."
The charges come days after a similar rally erupted into violence in Sacramento. Members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a national white separatist group, and the Golden State Skinheads, a known California white supremacy group, were attacked by counter-protesters on Capitol grounds on June 25, according to police.
Seven people were stabbed and nine others were injured in that incident, according to police. No arrests have been made.
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3:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from Anaheim Police and an attorney representing three of the defendants.
1:17 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about the charges and comments from an attorney representing some of the protesters.