Santa Rosa, CA – March 8, 2019 – Defendant Vincent Joseph O’Sullivan, 56 years old of Guerneville, was found guilty by a jury Thursday afternoon of criminally threatening to bomb the Safeway grocery store in Guerneville, CA. The jury further found that this threat constituted a hate crime in that O’Sullivan made this threat in part because his targeted victim was homosexual.
District Attorney Ravitch stated, “In our society free speech is a valuable right. And yet, this is not an unfettered right. When speech crosses over into threats that are specific, immediate, and intended to be conveyed as threats, that can become a crime.”
The charge of criminal threats stemmed from an incident which happened on May 12, 2018 when O’Sullivan entered the Safeway in Guerneville to purchase a coffee at the Starbucks kiosk. The lone barista working behind the counter, a gay man, recognized O’Sullivan as a regular customer and sought to strike up a conversation at the register. Using a combination of homophobic slur and foul language, O’Sullivan responded by calmly stating that he was in the process of building pipe bombs to blow up the barista, Safeway, and the Guerneville Sheriff substation. The victim testified at trial that this threat gave him nightmares for weeks afterwards.
In addition to evidence of the threat, jurors also heard about a crime that had taken place three days prior. On May 9, 2018 O’Sullivan had taken part in the theft of a gay pride flag from the Veterans Memorial flagpole in the Guerneville plaza. When arrested for that theft, O’Sullivan described the flying of the flag as “disgraceful and offensive”, claiming it had no place on the pole which was dedicated to veterans. O’Sullivan was charged separately with the theft of that flag, and was convicted of that offense in July of 2018.
Following the jury’s verdict on Thursday afternoon the defendant was remanded into custody. He will be sentenced on April 4th in Department 10 of the Sonoma County criminal court house.
The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Brian Morimune who was assisted by Victim Advocate Elizabeth Garcia. Deputy Timothy Wright of the Sonoma Sherriff’s Department headed the investigation.