Updated: Guerneville man gets jail time in hate crime case
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A North Bay man was sentenced to nine months in county jail and three years probation last week for a hate crime conviction tied to an incident in which he threatened to "bomb the gay people in Guerneville" at a local Safeway store last year.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Peter Ottenweller told Vincent Joseph O'Sullivan, 56, of Guerneville, that he did not believe O'Sullivan was remorseful for his actions and did not understand the impact on the local community.
O'Sullivan has been in custody since March when a Sonoma County Superior Court jury found him guilty of the felony criminal threat charges. O'Sullivan had pleaded not guilty and was represented by attorney Martin Woods.
In May 2018, O'Sullivan targeted Hank Myers, a gay man who works as a manager at a Starbucks located inside the Guerneville Safeway store off Highway 116. According to witness testimony, O'Sullivan told Myers, "I am going to kill all the motherfucking gays," and "I am going to blow you up you motherfucking faggot."
O'Sullivan was convicted last year of stealing a rainbow flag from the Guerneville Plaza flagpole with another man, Michael Tomas Campos, 35, who was found guilty of petty theft. The flag had been stolen more than half a dozen times. 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, according to an assistant district attorney's statement.
Myers, 62, was present with his partner at the April 10 sentencing and read aloud a victim's statement.
"You have given me anxiety and nightmares, loss of sleep, appetite from your hateful actions and statements," Myers said in court. "I have many frequent, sleepless nights where I have been afraid to leave my home in fear of the threats that you have made to our entire community if given the opportunity. I feel my life has been permanently altered in a very negative manner."
In his statement, Myers did not ask that O'Sullivan serve jail time, but instead have to do community service, in particular, with the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a nonprofit organization comprised of drag nuns who frequently give grants to local nonprofits.
"The pain caused will always be with me for the rest of my life," Myers said, adding that he felt O'Sullivan had no remorse for his actions, but felt that somewhere deep inside O'Sullivan was a good person.
O'Sullivan did not make eye contact with Myers as he read his statement.
Assistant District Attorney Brian Morimune asked for nine months jail time and three years probation. He said that was an appropriate sentence given the mental and emotional turmoil O'Sullivan caused Myers and the local LGBT community, along with O'Sullivan's lack of accountability.
"He has had the highest degree of refusal to take any accountability for his actions," Morimune said. "He has painted himself as the victim even after two guilty counts from a jury."
In a news release, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who's lesbian, said, "In a community known for tolerance of all sorts of people and issues, this conduct was rightly prosecuted and punished. The outcome of this case should serve as a strong message to anyone considering the use of hateful speech or conduct."
Woods, commenting on Myers' statement, told the court he does believe O'Sullivan is a good person and asked the judge to allow him to give back to the community.
"He's done enough time. More time won't do anything," Woods said. "Let's see Mr. O'Sullivan do some possible good in the community so you can see him in the same light that I do."
In his statement to the court, O'Sullivan, in handcuffs, said, "I do feel bad that this all happened. There is remorse here."
The judge did not believe this, saying he was "bewildered" by O'Sullivan's behavior. He referred to a probation report from the flag stealing case in which O'Sullivan described himself as the victim and claimed Myers was simply trying to get attention by sabotaging O'Sullivan.
Ottenweller also said he felt O'Sullivan should have an understanding of discrimination due to his Irish heritage.
"The reason I am bewildered by this is because you should be fully aware of what your hateful comments mean to not just one person but a class of people," Ottenweller said.
The judge also commented on the fact that O'Sullivan used to frequently order coffee from Myers at the Starbucks.
"To say the things you did to someone who has been respectful to you shows your complete lack of control and the hatred coming out of you," Ottenweller said. "Twelve people believed your behavior constituted a hate crime and that your behavior is not tolerated in this community. I am not sure you get that or how your words and behavior affect people."
The judge also sentenced O'Sullivan to 12 anger management classes.
After the hearing, Myers said he felt the sentencing was enough and that, "this kind of behavior is not tolerated. There is no tolerance for hatred."
He also felt O'Sullivan did not feel contrition for his actions saying, "He feels like he's the victim, and it's society that is wrong. He wouldn't even look at me. He has no remorse."
Beth Streets, a straight ally who started a Flag Supporters group, which, on multiple occasions replaced the stolen rainbow flags, said she was disappointed in the sentence.
"I don't think three years probation is enough," Streets, who was there to support Myers, said. She has attended nearly all of O'Sullivan's court hearings dating back to the petty theft charge. "Three years for a hate crime is not sufficient."
She also felt O'Sullivan doesn't believe he is guilty and she found it disrespectful that he wouldn't make eye contact with Myers as he read his statement.
Another member of the Flag Supporters group, Roger Reed, a gay man, was also at last week's hearing. The sentence was "too light" in Reed's opinion and he called O'Sullivan's actions "unacceptable."
"Hate is still out there. To me, it's getting worse with what's happening in the country as a whole and the leadership of the country," Reed, a Santa Rosa resident, said.
A member of the local Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence was also there in support of Myers. Seamus McChesney, who identifies as a nonbinary queer, said the rainbow flag has been incredibly important to the LGBT Guerneville and Russian River community.
As a second-generation queer, McChesney sees Sonoma County as a sanctuary. McChesney and their trans wife attended the first flag raising ceremony in June 2017.
"Everyone was so excited about the flag. To have someone maliciously take it down was a blow to the community. It's had a significant impact on the community," McChesney said.
Woods did not respond to a request for comment from the B.A.R.