UPDATE: Jeremy Marks made it home Dec. 23. Photo of him outside jail, reuniting with his mom, is here.
For eight months, Verdugo Hills High School student Jeremy Marks has been in a tough adult jail, facing years in prison for felony crimes he allegedly committed while videotaping a Los Angeles Unified School District police officer grappling with another student.
But now the 18-year-old is going home for Christmas, thanks to a Google engineer in San Francisco he’s never met, who this week paid Marks’ $50,000 bond.
L.A. Weekly first exposed the case in “Jeremy Marks ‘Attempted Lynching’ Case” (Dec. 9), about a teen waiting for a ride after school who used his cell phone to videotape Los Angeles School Police Department officer Erin Robles hitting a 15-year-old student.
Marks’ subsequent arrest ignited a firestorm of comments across the Weekly’s and other websites.
On Dec. 10, the Weekly received an e-mail from Google software engineer Neil Fraser asking for contact information for Marks’ parents.
Fraser wrote: “I am in a position to post bail for Jeremy so that he may spend Christmas with his family.”
Over the next few days, Fraser talked to many people working to assist with bail efforts for Marks. He tells the Weekly, “I’ve been in constant communication with lawyers, bail bondsmen, Jeremy’s mother, the press, banks and accountants — but the one person this is all about is completely isolated.”
Fraser explains, “When I was growing up, I spent several years in Germany — a country still traumatized by the Holocaust. One of the things I learned was that bad things can only happen if good people do nothing. I consider myself to be a good person, so I had no choice but to act when I saw something like this happening.”
Fraser also sent the family $1,500 for Marks’ defense attorney costs, which was matched by Google.
Marks is alleged to have called out “Kick her ass!” last May as he and other students watched Robles and an unnamed 15-year-old student physically grappling after the campus officer challenged the student for smoking a cigar or joint.
The incident unfolded at a Metro bus stop near Verdugo Hills High School as about 30 students were waiting to board.
Jeremy Marks was an onlooker who touched nobody. But prosecutors piled felony charges on him, including making a “criminal threat,” and claimed that he called out the gang name of the Piru Bloods. The unnamed 15-year-old, who actually did fight with the campus officer — who struck the minor with her baton and sprayed him with mace — was quickly released. But Marks has been held for eight months in the tough adult Pitchess Detention Center.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley’s prosecution team says that Marks’ alleged calling out “Kick her ass!” amounted to an “attempted lynching” — defined under the law as trying to “incite a riot during an attempt to free a suspect from police custody.”
But videos shot and posted to YouTube by other students with cell phone cameras show that Marks was one of the quieter kids watching the incident. (Click here to view videos.) Marks can be seen in the YouTube videos using his cell phone camera to tape Robles as she repeatedly pushed the uncooperative 15-year-old smoker against an MTA bus.
Marks’ bail was hiked to $155,000 by a Superior Court judge after Robles and campus police accused the student of belonging to a gang. A gang expert later brought in by Los Angeles County prosecutors, who relied on statements of two alleged gang members and a third “untested informant,” buttressed Robles’ claim by stating that Marks was affiliated with a gang. Both Marks and his mother deny it.
The bail figure was impossible for his mother, Rochelle Pittman, a part-time swimming pool attendant, to pay. She needed $15,500 for the bail fee, money that is lost once paid. (Click here for story about her fight to free Marks.) Fraser chose to put up far more — $50,000 — under an agreement in which the full amount is returned if Marks shows up for court dates.
Celes King IV, vice chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality of California, rejoiced as the collaborative effort to bring Marks home by Christmas came together. His longtime business, Celes King III Bail Bonds, working with Bail USA and Seneca Insurance Co. as well as Fraser and Marks’ family, reached a deal on Dec. 17 to free Marks.
However, Marks’ hoped-for release was delayed that day because of an error involving a juvenile probation hold that was supposed to have been removed from Marks’ file in an Aug. 11 court proceeding. Marks’ attorneys scurried to file an ex parte motion for removal of the “bail hold order.”
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Mark Ravis, Marks’ attorney, says, “It took a while, but the juvenile judge was very understanding and agreed to release the bail hold.”
King says his agency will post the $155,000 bail and Marks will be home on Thursday, in time to spend Christmas with his family.
In the meantime, Fraser has gone shopping to make sure there are presents under the Christmas tree for Marks’ homecoming. His mother says two gifts have already arrived.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.