One charged with civil rights violations during protests takes plea deal

·2 min read

May 17—One of four defendants charged with violating protesters' civil rights during an alleged November 2020 incident surrounding the Black Lives Matter demonstrations took a plea deal Tuesday.

Dustin Marion pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor of fighting or challenging a fight in a public place, during the fourth day of a preliminary hearing in his case. Charges such as violating civil rights, conspiracy and stalking were dismissed. He was sentenced to 14 days in jail and one year probation, according to an email from Kern County Superior Court spokeswoman Kristin Davis.

Police say Marion, and his co-defendants Kristi Stewart, Kevin Connell and Timothy Stevens were part of a conservative group called the 1776 Patriots and confronted with pro-BLM activist Erika Harris. Harris, who recorded the allegations in a video, testified Tuesday during the preliminary hearing that the defendants sprayed bear mace, assaulted her and used racial slurs.

Connell, Stewart and Timothy Stevens each face a felony charge of violating civil rights by causing violent injury and a misdemeanor charge of fighting or challenging a fight in a public place. Connell additionally is charged with second-degree robbery and possessing tear gas as a weapon by a person with a previous conviction. Stewart is also charged with conspiracy, two counts of battery on a person and assault.

Marion's attorney, Kyle Humphrey, said Tuesday in a phone interview that people were rude during the confrontation captured in a video by Harris, but he maintained his client had every right to counterprotest. Marion accepted the plea deal, Humphrey said, because the litigation was costly.

"He made a wise choice," Humphrey noted of his client.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph Kinzel wrote in an email the plea deal was made in "consideration of the evidence presented, in consultation with the alleged victim and to focus on the most culpable alleged participants."

Humphrey added the video was "political theater" and the case was generated during a "politically motivated time" in which the media was slanted. However, in the video, Marion did not confront Harris, Humphrey added.

"He was just there," Humphrey said.

Judge Michael Bush ruled Wednesday the preliminary hearing would resume May 25. The hearing has been ongoing since Friday.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter.