Some 50 supporters gathered in Lodi court Tuesday, where two men were arraigned on charges related to a ruckus at a weekend bullfight in Thornton.
The polite crowd cheered afterward outside the courthouse, when defense attorney Randy Thomas explained that the men are only facing misdemeanors and would be released from jail Tuesday evening.
Cesar Rocha, 38, and Darren Nunes, 23, pleaded not guilty to one misdemeanor each of assault on an officer, and Rocha is also charged with resisting arrest.
Both were arrested Friday night after a Southern California-based animal rights investigator showed up at the bullfight in Thornton, which was part of a weekend-long Portuguese festival.
Neither man has a criminal record, Thomas told Judge David Warner, and he began making a pitch for their release from custody when the judge interrupted. Warner noted that the charges are misdemeanors, then asked a prosecutor if his office opposed a release.
The prosecutor did not request bail, and Warner ordered the men released on their promise to appear at future court dates. He scheduled a June 15 court date.
Four extra deputies, including a sergeant, were summoned to the court building when bailiffs saw the crowd outside. However, their concern was not with the supporters, but with the possibility of a confrontation if animal-rights activists appeared. That did not happen, and the five-minute arraignment was uneventful.
Supporters outside court insisted that bulls are not injured in the fights, for which organizers get permits and have medics and deputies on scene.
"There is no blood, all the permits are in place; it's not some underground thing like a cockfight," said Acampo resident Sam Tunnell, who has attended many bullfights in Thornton, including Friday's.
He and other witnesses said the animal officer jumped a fence, rather than paying admission, and ran into the arena. There Nunes physically confronted him.
Nunes, of Los Banos, works as a sales distributor and previously served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the military, Thomas said.
Deputies were still sorting out the incident and Rocha was involved in a verbal dispute with them at the back of the arena, Tunnell said.
"Then a deputy comes running up from behind and tackles (Rocha). (Rocha) is blindsided, so he turns to fight back and has no idea that it's a cop," Tunnell said.
Tunnell was upset at the deputy's actions, and was frustrated when he asked for their badge numbers and names but was refused.
"I don't even know (Rocha). I've never met him in my life, but that's why I came here today," said Tunnell, noting good-naturedly that he was one of the few non-Portuguese people in the crowd. "You can't treat someone like that; we have rights in this country and the deputies can't get away with that."
The Sheriff's Office previously said in a press release that a deputy was injured during that confrontation. The injury was apparently not serious enough to warrant a felony charge.
Rocha owns a dairy and was never involved in the original incident with the animal officer in the arena, Thomas said.
As for the bullfight, numerous supporters said outside court that the bulls are not injured. Bullfights started in Thornton in 1971 and have been uneventful, said Joe Goncalves of Lodi, who organized Friday's bullfight.
For Stockton resident Sev Magina, the bullfights have been fun events he has attended since 1973, and he enjoys taking his two children to the festivals.
Bulls are raised in open pastures, then run once in the bullfight and retired until they go to a slaughterhouse, Magina said.
"You can legally hunt and kill an animal. You can catch a fish and leave a hook in its mouth for an hour," he said, asking why those practices don't come under more scrutiny.