Cabrillo College rallies to free classmate
by Michelle Camerlingo / Press-Banner
Oct 01, 2009 | 1633 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Peers, family and friends rallied for Colter White and marched in a loop from the Town Clock down Water Street to pass by the courthouse and jail Friday, Sept. 25. Courtesy of Jackie Gollbach.
Peers, family and friends rallied for Colter White and marched in a loop from the Town Clock down Water Street to pass by the courthouse and jail Friday, Sept. 25. Courtesy of Jackie Gollbach.
When Nancy Neiblas of Boulder Creek received a phone call from her son, Colter White, telling her he was in jail, she dropped the phone in shock.

She was just as shocked one week later when Colter’s peers from Cabrillo College organized a rally on his behalf to show the California Parole Board that White does not deserve to go back to prison.

White, a 38-year-old honor student, was arrested in Live Oak on Sept. 18 after a man he knows from his Narcotics Anonymous meetings told deputies that White threatened him and tried to beat him, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. The accuser said Colter cut him off or lunged at him while the man was riding his bike though the man did not fall off the bike and was not physically injured.

White was just two months shy of completing his parole.

“He’d been out for two years and has done everything right. I’ve really gotten to know my son for the brilliant, skillful, respectful person that he is. That call was just heart-wrenching,” Neiblas said. “But at the rally, I was just stunned at the impact my son has had on people. It really was uplifting.”

White is now at San Quentin State Prison anticipating a hearing on Oct. 5 that will decide if one man’s allegations will be enough to revoke White’s parole and keep him incarcerated for up to a year.

While the district attorney’s office declined to file charges, the brush with the law was enough to pluck him from freedom. He was transferred back to prison Sept. 24.

“I can see why the DA didn’t file charges. It looks obviously fishy. The man who accused Colter has bias against him,” said Ben Rice, White’s attorney. “He didn’t like how Colter disapproved of him for being 43 and having a 17-year-old girlfriend.”

After Rice read White’s story in a newspaper, he phoned Neiblas and offered to represent her son pro bono. Rice has privately practiced criminal defense law out of Santa Cruz since 1987 and has received many local service awards for his work.

“I wanted to help, because I know how important it is to prepare for a trial like this,” Rice said.  “It would be a monumental tragedy to send Colter to prison, because he’s innocent. Not to mention a terrible waste of California taxpayer money and limited resources.”

The probable-cause hearing will take place on Monday in San Quentin. If the hearing leads to a finding against Colter, which Rice said usually happens in the case of parolees, another panel will decide whether or not to revoke White’s parole and keep him prison for up to one year.

For White’s peers and those close to him, the ordeal has been a trying but active time. His family, professors, students and even Cabrillo College President Brian King wrote letters in support of White, hoping their words about his impact on the Aptos campus will sway the parole board in his favor.

“Colter has been a very positive influence working with the honor society. He’s really been a leader on this campus,” King said. “It’s always a good sign when a student has done well enough to be eligible for the honor society.”

King said he wanted to do anything he could to help White, who won the President’s Volunteer Service Award last year.

White, a second-year communications major with sights on being a lawyer, has been in and out of the prison system since he was in eighth grade, said David Turner, White’s mentor and his mother’s longtime partner.

White has had a violent past that includes problems with drug use, but has been sober for the last six years, Turner said.

“Once you’re in the system, it can be extremely difficult to get out of. But Colter made the decision to change his life about six years ago when he was at Pelican Bay State Prison,” Turner said.

It was there, behind bars, that White worked for his GED and enrolled in college courses via mail. After he was paroled two years ago, he moved in with his mother and Turner in Boulder Creek, got a construction job and enrolled at Cabrillo full time.

Jackie Gollbach of Ben Lomond met White in a Cabrillo psychology class last year and has since become very close with him and his family.

“Colter is far too motivated to jeopardize the life he has now,” Gollbach said. “On top of that, he is an honest person.

“At times,” Gollbach added, “he is honest to a fault.”

Gollbach made the “Free Colter” T-shirts worn by many students at the rally in downtown Santa Cruz. The Sept. 25 gathering drew more than 50 people, who marched in a loop from the Town Clock down Water Street to pass by the courthouse and jail. People took photos and video of the rally, more evidence that might be presented during White’s hearing.

“He’s been a perfect parolee,” said his girlfriend of 15 months, Courtney Morse. “As soon as he heard that there were allegations, he went straight to his parole officer on his own accord.”

White was taking Morse’s 9-year-old daughter to school in Live Oak on the morning the alleged encounter occurred.

White’s accuser “had nothing on him, no scratches or anything,” Morse said. “Colter is a big guy. If anything happened, it would have shown. He was just angry Colter expressed his opinion about his lifestyle.”

Neiblas said she’s trying to stay strong for her son during a roller-coaster ride of heartbreak, frustration and hope. White has been unable to phone out or receive visits since he was transferred to San Quentin.

“The hope is what’s been keeping me buoyant though all of this. The support is incredible,” Neiblas said. “I worry about Colter, though. I don’t even know if he knows he has a lawyer. I’m just thinking, ‘Please don’t give up hope, Colt.’”
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