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O'Sullivan found guilty of stealing rainbow flag

by Alex Madison

Vincent Joseph O'Sullivan. Photo: Courtesy Sonoma County Sheriff's Office
Vincent Joseph O'Sullivan. Photo: Courtesy Sonoma County Sheriff's Office  

A Sonoma county jury found the man who stole a rainbow flag from the Guerneville Plaza flagpole in May guilty of petty theft June 28.

Vincent Joseph O'Sullivan, 55, will be sentenced for the flag theft at a July 13 hearing at Sonoma County Superior Court in Santa Rosa.

"There were many who were very upset by this conduct," Sonoma County District Attorney Jill R. Ravitch, who is a lesbian, said in a news release. "The jury's verdict reflects the support this community has for the rule of law and the right of all to enjoy this county."

Though the rainbow flag has been stolen more than half a dozen times since it was first put up in June 2017, O'Sullivan was only charged with one theft that occurred May 9. He was caught on surveillance camera stealing the flag early in the morning with an accomplice, who the Sonoma County DA's office has yet to charge.

During trial, Sonoma County sheriff's deputy Theodore Van Bebber testified that when he questioned O'Sullivan he didn't deny taking the flag and admitted that the flag's presence on that flagpole offended him as well as others.

O'Sullivan is also facing hate crime charges for another incident in May where he threatened to "bomb the gay people in Guerneville" at a local Safeway store, authorities said. He targeted one individual who was the victim in this case, a gay male employee of the Starbucks located inside the Guerneville Safeway store off Highway 116.

Other threats and language allegedly used by O'Sullivan during the incident included, "I am going to kill all the motherfucking gays," and "I am going to blow you up you motherfucking faggot," according to Robert Maddock, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case.

O'Sullivan's arraignment regarding the hate crime charge is scheduled for July 12. Santa Rosa attorney Chris Chouteau, who declined to comment for the story, is representing him.

The hate crime charge against O'Sullivan was reinstated at a June 22 hearing by Superior Court Judge Jennifer V. Dollard after being dismissed in an earlier hearing. Dollard determined that Superior Court Judge Andria K. Richey, who dismissed the hate crime charge, ruled in an error of law and failed to hold O'Sullivan to answer for his threats.

He was taken into custody on $55,000 bail at the June 22 hearing, but posted bail later that night and was released from jail.

Beth Streets, a straight ally who started a Flag Supporters group that has been replacing the stolen rainbow flags, has attended every court hearing that O'Sullivan has had to date regarding the hate crime and petty theft charges.

"I was thrilled beyond belief that he was convicted," Streets said in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "In a small town it's important people are held accountable for such vile behavior."

Streets is disappointed, however, that the person who allegedly helped steal the rainbow flag with O'Sullivan in May has not been charged yet. Streets said she has asked the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights to put pressure on the Sonoma County DA's office to file charges against the accomplice.

As previously noted by the B.A.R., the sheriff's office began its investigation April 26, according to a statement by Lieutenant Eddie Engram on website Nixle.com, after a rainbow flag was stolen from the flagpole in Guerneville Plaza. Soon, the office became aware of O'Sullivan's threats.

As the sheriff's office's investigation progressed, deputies developed probable cause that O'Sullivan was a suspect for both the flag thefts and the threats. Sergeant Spencer Crum said the investigators connected the flag vandalism with the threats based on two different incidents.

Crum said deputies reviewed videos taken by surveillance cameras owned by the county and aimed at Guerneville Plaza.

"We saw O'Sullivan and another person on the plaza before the theft, then the other person covering the video camera, and at the end, when the camera was uncovered, the rainbow flag was gone," he said.

Then, when O'Sullivan allegedly issued threats at Safeway, investigators concluded the intent was specifically to injure members of the LGBTQ community. Crum said O'Sullivan told Safeway employees he wanted to "bomb the gay people of Guerneville."

Contact the reporter at a.madison@ebar.com.

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