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Jury finds Guerneville man guilty of hate-fueled bomb threat against gay barista

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A Guerneville man who was at the center of series of hate- related incidents in Guerneville last year was found guilty Thursday of making homophobic slurs against a gay Starbucks barista and threatening to blow up him and the town’s Safeway with a pipe bomb, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office said.

Vincent Joseph O’Sullivan, 56, made the felony threats on May 12 at a Starbucks kiosk inside the Safeway in Guerneville, prosecutors said.

His arrest came the same day — and included allegations linking him to a series of thefts of the rainbow flag from the flagpole in the Guerneville Plaza. He later told investigators under questioning that the flag’s presence “offended him as well as others” and did not deny taking it, according to a deputy’s testimony in his theft trial last year.

O’Sullivan was found guilty in June in that case as his felony trial on the threats moved forward.

The May 12 confrontation in Safeway occurred after O’Sullivan ordered a coffee at the Starbucks kiosk and Hank Dixon Myers, the lone barista working, tried to start a conversation with him, authorities said.

O’Sullivan replied by making homophobic slurs and cursing at Myers, according to the District Attorney’s press release.

O’Sullivan, a regular customer at the coffee shop, told Myers he was in the process of building pipe bombs and that he intended to use them to blow him up, along with the Safeway and a Sheriff’s Office substation in Guerneville, prosecutors said.

Myers told jurors the threats gave him nightmares for weeks, according to the press release.

“When speech crosses over into threats that are specific, immediate and intended to be conveyed as threats, that can become a crime,” District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in a statement.

News of O’Sullivan’s arrest last spring shook the Russian River community, known as a haven of tolerance for people of all genders and sexual identities.

Reports of the flag thefts, starting in late April, had unsettled Guerneville residents for several weeks.

Jurors in the latest trial were told about his conviction in the flag case, which focused on a single theft May 9 from the Guerneville Plaza.

His sentence in that case, handed down in July, included four months in jail and three years probation, court records show.

He could face a maximum of three years in state prison for the felony threat conviction, and anywhere between one and three years for the hate crime enhancement, said Martin Woods, O’Sullivan’s lawyer.

Mary Mount, known as Sister Claire Voyante in her role with the nonprofit Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, said she was pleased with the conviction and hoped the judge would impose the maximum sentence against O’Sullivan in the threat case.

Mount celebrated with friends Thursday afternoon at Guerneville’s Smart Pizza, where the first pride flag hung at the town’s plaza is framed and mounted onto a wall.

Among the attendees were Myers and his husband, she said.

The group talked about hate and love, as well as the significance of the gay pride flag thefts, she said.

“There’s still people out there like (O’Sullivan) in Guerneville but so far, we won,” Mount said. “So far, there’s a victory.”

Sixteen hate crimes were reported to Sonoma County authorities in 2017, up from 10 reported the previous year, data released by the state’s Department of Justice showed.

Eight of those reports were made to Petaluma authorities, five were reported in the unincorporated county, two in Santa Rosa and one in Windsor.

Only one of those cases resulted in prosecutors filing charges, the DOJ reported.

The District Attorney’s Office was not able to provide annual data on how many times prosecutors filed hate crime charges, or how many of those charges resulted in a conviction by Friday afternoon.

A Santa Rosa woman was sentenced in January to four months in jail and four years after admitting to hitting a woman and her crying 2-year-old son in a racially charged attack at the Sebastopol Road Dollar Tree in 2017. Prosecutors said Marion Christine Forrest, 53, became upset when the toddler started crying and yelled across the store that the “Mexican baby” needed to “shut up.”

Court records show O’Sullivan was rebooked into the Sonoma County Jail on Thursday afternoon after the jury conviction. He’ll return to court for sentencing on April 10.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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