CALIFORNIA ‘ A month after 1,000 copies of the University of California at Berkeley’s student newspaper were stolen, the city’s mayor was charged with a criminal infraction for the theft.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates admitted in December to being involved in stealing and trashing copies of the Nov. 4 edition of The Daily Californian. The edition, which carried an editorial endorsement of his mayoral opponent, incumbent Shirley Dean, was stolen one day before the election.
Four students witnessed Bates throwing the copies into the trash and immediately informed police officials, said Rong-Gong Lin, editor in chief of The Daily Cal. Bates initially denied any involvement in stealing or trashing the copies.
However, Bates released a statement on Dec. 5 apologizing for his actions in relation to the theft but stopped short of admitting to personally stealing the copies.
‘There is no question that tossing newspapers is absolutely inappropriate and unacceptable,’ Bates said in a statement. ‘I apologize on behalf of myself and my supporters for our involvement in this activity.
Bates later announced that he would plead guilty at his January court date.
Following a month-long investigation, U.C. police officials recommended to the Alameda County District Attorney that Bates be charged with petty theft, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and up to a year in jail. Assistant district attorney John Adams said because Bates has no criminal history, he would be charged with a criminal infraction, which carries a fine of up to $250.
Adams also noted in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that The Daily Cal’s ‘net loss could be viewed as relatively small’ because the publication is distributed for free, although he acknowledged its value can be measured through advertising revenues.
Under public pressure, Bates said he will propose a city ordinance and support state legislation that would make it a crime to steal free newspapers.
A bill that would have made it a punishable offense to steal free newspapers failed to pass in the state assembly in August. The law would have protected publishers from theft of 25 or more copies. Newspaper thieves in other states have been prosecuted under existing theft and property destruction laws.
Bates also plans to pay The Daily Cal $500 to cover the cost of the trashed copies, but Lin has said that much of the mayor’s credibility is already lost.
The Daily Cal staff, along with three of the four student, who witnessed Bates steal the papers, has called for the mayor’s resignation.
‘Bates has let down his political colleagues, his supporters and, most of all, the city’s residents who trusted him to be Berkeley’s mayor,’ stated a Dec. 6 Daily Cal editorial. ‘The only honorable action Bates can now do for Berkeley is to resign immediately.’
Bates said he would ‘absolutely not’ step down as mayor, according to the Dec. 7 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.