Homes Not Jails protesters released

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PHOTO BY PETER MENCHINI

This article has been updated

Nineteen Homes Not Jails protesters who were arrested last night and held on felony charges of vandalism, conspiracy and burglary, many on bail as high as $325,000, have been released.

Their charges have not been dropped. Instead, those arrested have been "discharged pending further investigation," according to District Attorney spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman.

Friends and supporters say that they spent the day calling the office of District Attorney George Gascón, asking him to release the demonstrators.

The arrests were made during a protest marking World Homeless Day. It involved opening and entering a vacant building at 535 Castro St. The building, a commercial ground floor space and second floor apartments, has been vacant seven years. It's owned by Les Natali, who also owns the vacant Patio Cafe next door as well as several other neighborhood properties.

Homes Not Jails has been protesting landlords who let properties lie vacant since it was founded in 1992. Many in the group were surprised with the charges leveled against those arrested last night,

"My understanding is that after 2008, these actions usually resulted in misdemeanor charges," said longtime housing rights advocate and Castro resident Tommi Avicolli Mecca.

Mecca said he was surprised at the police response to the protest. At least 80 police officers gathered outside Dolores Park and observed a rally that took place yesterday. They then escorted the march and closed the street, lining up in riot gear, as protesters entered the building. 

"Homes Not Jails has absolutely no history of violence," said Mecca.

Stillman said that the DA's office could not go into details about the reasoning for the charges and bail amount, as they cases are under ongoing investigation.

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