I am very sorry to hear of the incident in Santa Barbara. Though debates were often heated when I was there, I thought we at least respected our collective right to put our viewpoints out there into the public domain. The Nexus, in my opinion, was a fair-minded forum for doing so.
I hope the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime are brought to justice. I disagree with the legal position of the UCPD and I hope that you can convince the district attorney to see these actions differently. A more creative law enforcer could easily see how these acts constituted larceny (C.P.C. 484-502.9). In the absence of any case law to the contrary (which there is none in California) and a grievous injury to the students of UCSB, I think law enforcement is required in good faith to aggressively investigate this matter and come up with a legal theory for the charge. Even a first-year law student could argue that the newspapers constituted “property” and had “value.” I doubt any well-trained prosecutor would have trouble making out the elements of a larceny charge. You might want to contact the DAs in Alameda County about their research in the Tom Bates matter. District Attorney Thomas Sneddon is lucky enough to have not just one, but several talented deputies in his office.
I also encourage you to pursue any civil remedies you might have against the person or persons responsible for this act. I think this would be an excellent pro bono opportunity for a local attorney interested in ensuring the importance of a free press. Also organizations like FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) or the Pacific Legal Foundation might help. It is important that you make an example out of the perpetrator(s) so this doesn’t happen again.