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Ukiah man suspected of hate crime in Bodega Bay trailhead pepper spray attack

A Ukiah ex-felon is facing hate crime charges after authorities said he was seen dousing at least two people of color with pepper spray Saturday morning at a popular Bodega Bay ?hiking trailhead.

The attacks were similar to a pair of reported incidents in Mendocino County in which Anthony Pelfrey, 43, is now a potential suspect.

Witnesses told the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office that Pelfrey intentionally used a type of pepper spray sold as a bear deterrent on an Asian man and a Latino man in a parking lot for the Pinnacle Gulch Trail shortly after 10:15 a.m.

Both men were attacked in short succession before Pelfrey left the scene in a white Honda Civic, said Sgt. Juan Valencia, a sheriff’s office spokesman. Witnesses photographed Pelfrey and his car, which led authorities to his Ukiah home where he was arrested.

Pelfrey was supposedly at Pinnacle Gulch for a nature walk with a group of yoga enthusiasts who have been training for their teaching certification for several months, said his partner, Hilary James, a social worker who lives with Pelfrey in Ukiah.

Pelfrey is schizophrenic, and his condition had worsened since the coronavirus shutdown stopped his carpentry work and suspended the yoga classes he teaches around the area, James said. He was recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital in St. Helena, she said.

James disputed that the attacks were racially-motivated and that he instead had convinced himself he was in danger. Pelfrey had been “constantly watching the news” recently, engrossed by the coverage of nationwide protests in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, she said.

“He was so paranoid and would stand in front of the door and thought people were going to get us,” James said. “None of it was racial for him. He thought it was the end of the world.”

The Ukiah Police Department and Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office are investigating Pelfrey for two similar incidents earlier in the week.

Pelfrey is a person of interest in a potential hate crime in Mendocino County involving the use of bear spray on a clerk at a local store, sheriffs Capt. Greg Van Patten said in an email.

He said disclosing specifics could compromise the ongoing investigation, but video surveillance showed the attack was unprovoked and the victim, who is of Middle Eastern descent, was sprayed while he had his back turned, Van Patten said.

“It appeared to be a premeditated act,” he said.

Ukiah Police Officer Jason Chapman confirmed on Sunday his department also is investigating a local incident involving a man who used pepper spray on a victim of color, but could not provide specifics.

Pelfrey was charged with attempted murder in July 2007 after attacking two men with a machete near a Lake Mendocino boat ramp, according to the Ukiah Daily Journal. He was convicted two years later and sentenced to 13 years in a state prison.

James said Pelfrey was paroled into a mental health facility about three years ago before rehabilitating in transitional housing and a sober living environment.

Pelfrey was booked Saturday night into Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of committing a hate crime, possessing pepper spray as a felon and illegal use of pepper spray.

He was being held on $50,000 bail and was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday morning.

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