Hate-crime charges reinstated in plaza gay pride flag theft

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s office has reinstated a hate crime charge against the Guerneville transient convicted last month for stealing a gay pride flag from the flagpole in the Guerneville town plaza.

Vincent O’Sullivan, 55, will be back in court Aug. 29 to face charges that he threatened GLBT individuals in Guerneville during a confrontation with a Starbucks employee at the Guerneville Safeway. O’Sullivan called the worker “a faggot” and threatened to bomb “all the gay people in Guerneville,” according to court records.

O’Sullivan is now facing charges of violating state penal code section 422(a) that states: “Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement … is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out.”

O’Sullivan was arrested in May on felony charges of making a hate-crime threat involving bomb violence, and a misdemeanor charge of petty theft. A visiting judge dropped the felony accusation owing to insufficient evidence. O’Sullivan had not been found in possession of any bomb, said a sheriff’s office spokesman.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s office in June successfully petitioned a different judge to reinstate charges that O’Sullivan made a terrorist threat that constituted a hate crime.

If convicted on the new charges O’Sullivan could face fines and up to three years in state prison.

The re-filed hate-crime charge follows O’Sullivan’s July 20 conviction on a misdemeanor charge of stealing a rainbow pride flag from the Guerneville plaza flagpole. His sentence included three years probation, 100 hours of community service and a court order to stay away from the plaza.

An accomplice in the flag theft, Michael Campos, 35, of Guerneville, pleaded no contest and was sentenced to three years probation and 80 hours of community service, according to court records. Campos remained in custody at Sonoma County Jail this week on separate charges.

The charges against O’Sullivan and Campos resulted from a theft recorded on a plaza surveillance video in the early morning hours of May 9. Surveillance footage from the Smart Pizza parlor on the plaza showed Campos and O’Sullivan loitering around the plaza, inspecting the flag pole and looking at the surveillance cameras, said a Sonoma County District Attorney’s office media statement of the O’Sullivan and Campos sentencing.

“Eventually, Michael Campos used a napkin/rag to cover the surveillance camera during which time Vincent O’Sullivan removed the pride flag from the pole,” said the D.A.’s statement.

O’Sullivan and Campos were subsequently seen in the surveillance footage “working together to adjust the collars on the flag pole before leaving the area.”

The pride flag was never recovered.

Superior Court Commissioner Mark Urioste, who sentenced O’Sullivan, “admonished O’Sullivan regarding his conduct and reiterated although he has every right to feel a particular way about the pride flag he does not have a right to steal with impunity,” said the D.A.’s media statement. “Commissioner Urioste further commented the theft was not done for the monetary value of the flag but was rather committed in order to silence the members of the LGBTQ community and limit their First Amendment rights.”

O’Sullivan’s conduct was “reprehensible and will not be tolerated,” said Urioste.

“We agree with the court’s remarks regarding the theft of a flag that is a symbol to many,” said Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch. “The act reflects an intolerance that is not characteristic of this community, and the thieves were properly brought to justice.”