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Man pleads not guilty in Sonoma threat, flag case

by Charlie Wagner

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

A man whom Sonoma County sheriff's deputies said threatened to bomb gays and allegedly stole rainbow flags from the Guerneville Plaza flagpole pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance this week.

Vincent Joseph O'Sullivan was taken into custody by deputies from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Guerneville substation May 12 after he allegedly threatened to "bomb the gay people in Guerneville" at a local grocery store, authorities said.

O'Sullivan, 55, who was charged with making criminal threats that constitute a hate crime, entered a not guilty plea Tuesday, May 15, in Sonoma County Superior Court, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported.

He remains in custody on $55,000 bail. Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite ordered O'Sullivan to stay away from an unnamed victim and the Guerneville Safeway, according to the paper, which also said the district attorney's office sent charges related to the flag thefts back to the sheriff's office for further investigation.

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 threats to manufacture a pipe bomb.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted last week, several of the rainbow flags have been taken from the plaza flagpole, including one just after the article was published.

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."

The Sonoma County Public Defender's office is representing O'Sullivan.

Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi told the B.A.R. in a phone interview Monday that the office has represented O'Sullivan in previous cases.

Pozzi revealed O'Sullivan was already out on pre-trial probation for a petty theft case April 22. She said that her office had represented him in the past for evading arrest, possession of methamphetamines, and for multiple violations of driving with a suspended license.

Pozzi predicted the case would follow the standard procedure and go first to the Early Case Resolution Court, which attempts to resolve cases early.

"If it can't be resolved early, it will be sent to trial," she said, adding she had "no idea if the case will be resolved in ECR Court."

Flag supporters were relieved an arrest has been made.

"I intend to be there every time [O'Sullivan] appears for this case," said Beth Streets, a straight ally who started a Flag Supporters group that has been replacing the stolen rainbow flags.

She said she was glad that the sheriff's office is taking the matter seriously. A spokeswoman for Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the area, told the B.A.R. last week that Hopkins had asked the sheriff's office to treat the flag thefts as a hate crime.

Streets said it's possible that O'Sullivan worked with "three or four people," but also said she thinks, "The guy in custody was the leader."

Streets has been paying to replace the flags out of her own pocket and estimates between the flags and the reinforced halyard and security box, she's spent about $250 so far.

She said the Flag Supporter group has received about $100 in donations, plus at least two donated flags.

"The flag speaks of freedom and love and diversity," Streets said, "and goes beyond sexual orientation."

The sheriff's office is asking for anyone with information on the case to contact (707) 565-2121.

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