Trial set for Feb. 15
A judge has ruled that Vincent O’Sullivan must stand trial on hate-crime charges for allegedly threatening to make pipe bombs last year to blow up gay residents of Guerneville.
In arguing for dismissal of the case, defense attorney Martin Woods said O’Sullivan’s constitutional rights were violated during prior court proceedings, starting with a preliminary hearing last May. “Mr. O’Sullivan never got a chance” to offer a proper defense in his preliminary court hearing last year, said Woods in a Dec. 24 hearing before Superior Court Judge Brad DeMeo.
Woods argued that O’Sullivan’s dismissal was warranted because of “denial of substantial rights, that of effective cross-examination, deprivation of statutory powers of the magistrate, and the use of improper bootstrapped evidence,” said Woods, in his written plea to have the case dismissed.
O’Sullivan is charged with threatening a gay employee, Hank Meyers, who was serving O’Sullivan at the Starbucks in the Guerneville Safeway last May when Meyers said the threats were made. Whether Meyers suffered “sustained fear” owing to O’Sullivan’s conduct has been a prominent legal question in the case.
When O’Sullivan, a regular customer at the Safeway, ordered his usual coffee drink, a caramel macchiato with breve, on Mother’s Day last year, “He stated in a matter-of-fact tone of voice that he was building two pipe bombs and he was going to ‘blow up Safeway and you (Mr. Meyers), you [expletive] faggot,’ as well as the Sheriff’s Substation,” said Woods, in his court motion. O’Sullivan also said he planned to use bombs against “all the [expletive] faggots” in the Guerneville area, according to earlier court testimony by Meyers.
But after hearing the bomb threat, Meyers went about his work and finished making O’Sullivan’s macchiato which took approximately four minutes, and then continued working for another hour and a half before reporting the incident, according to court testimony.
Whether Meyers’ delay in reporting the incident indicates that he felt that O’Sullivan’s threat was not serious has been the focus of legal wrangling over whether the felony hate crime allegation meets the criteria in California Penal Code Section 422.
The law prohibits the use of force or threat of force “because of a victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability,” notes the Sonoma County District Attorney’s website.
The alleged bomb threats were made while O’Sullivan was already under investigation for stealing a gay pride flag from the Guerneville town plaza. O’Sullivan was charged with misdemeanor petty theft for the pride flag theft last April but a visiting judge, Andria Richey, dismissed the more serious felony hate crime charge, citing Meyer’s delay in reporting the incident.
In arguing for a dismissal, attorney Woods reiterated that O’Sullivan’s remarks about bombs “were so insignificant that Mr. Meyers continued working for one and a half hours” until a sheriff’s deputy came into the Safeway in response to a shoplifting report. Woods said that Meyers’s delay in reporting the threat supports the defense contention that the there is “no credible evidence of sustained fear as required under Penal Code section 422,” said Woods’ motion for dismissal.
In June the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office successfully persuaded a second judge, Jennifer Dollard, to reinstate the hate crime charge.
“Guerneville is well-known as an LGBT friendly resort town with many openly gay residents and numerous establishments that cater to gay clientele,” said Deputy District Attorney Robert Maddock in a court brief supporting the felony hate-crime charge.
O’Sullivan “is totally unapologetic for his conduct,” said Maddock. “There is no dispute that the crime was motivated by the hatred of homosexuals,” said Maddock. “The threats were very serious and disturbing. In the violent, hate-filled climate in which we find ourselves in 2018, the court should not reduce the charge.”
In denying Woods’ motion to dismiss the case, Judge DeMeo said Woods’ procedural questions regarding O’Sullivan’s earlier hearings were not sufficient to dismiss the charges.
After weighing prosecution and defense arguments, “I think we are left with the conclusion the motion should be denied,” said DeMeo. “I’m denying the motion, but not without some cognition of the inherent problems with the process.”
The judge set a February 15 trial date for O’Sullivan, who remains in custody in Sonoma County jail.