On Tuesday, Davis Police along with the FBI and Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig announced the arrest of Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, a 30-year-old Davis resident, in connection with the January 22 incident that occurred just before 4 am. The suspect allegedly vandalized the Islamic Center of Davis, smashing several large windows, then vandalized two bicycles and wrapped pork bacon around the door handles of the mosque. The repair costs exceeded $7,000.
While officials were guarded and light on details, Police Chief Darren Pytel indicated that Davis Police Detectives and FBI Agents served an arrest warrant at roughly 11 am. “She (was apprehended) without incident, and booked at the Yolo County Jail. Bail is set at $1 million. No other suspects are believed to be involved in this crime.”
Chief Pytel said, “From the outset, this case was investigated as a hate crime by both the Davis Police Department and the FBI. The FBI was called in to assist us in our local investigative efforts.” He added, “Several of the criminal acts were caught on surveillance cameras set up near the mosque. Soon after the crime was reported, the surveillance footage was released showing a female suspect breaking the windows and vandalizing the bicycles.”
The chief noted that they had received numerous tips after releasing the video. “On February 1st, Davis Police detectives and FBI agents served a search warrant at a residence located on the 2500 block of Corona Drive in Davis.” He said, “Following the service of the search warrant we seized evidence and investigated the crime and that culminated in the arrest that took place today.”
The case has been turned over to District Attorney Jeff Reisig for prosecution. The suspect is facing one count of felony vandalism under California Penal Code section 594(a)(b)(1) with a hate crime count enhancement for a hate crime under Penal Code section 422.75(a). The second felony vandalism count is under PC section 594.3(b), vandalism to a place of religious worship “which is shown to have been a hate crime and committed for the purpose of intimidating and deterring persons from freely exercising their religious beliefs.”
Jeff Reisig told the press yesterday, “Based on the facts of the investigation that have been provided to my office by the Davis Police Department and the FBI, we have filed a felony criminal complaint against 30-year-old Lauren Kirk-Coehlo of Davis, California.”
He said, “To prove a hate crime enhancement the prosecution must show that the crime was committed in whole or in part because of the victims’ religion or ethnicity.”
He told the press that Judge Samuel McAdam on Tuesday morning “set bail in this matter at $1 million” and the defendant will be arraigned at 8:30 am in Department 1 on February 16. If convicted, the defendant faces up to six years in prison.
FBI Special Agent Monica Miller from the Sacramento Field Office noted, “The FBI is tasked with defending our civil rights and to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate crimes that target a victim because of race, ethnicity, or national origin, sexual orientation or religion.”
She said that while the Constitution gives us many freedoms, it does “not give us the right to commit criminal acts in the name of their political, their religious or their ideological beliefs. That is not freedom.
“Hate crimes impact the entire community and because of the long-ranging impact, investigating hate crimes is a high priority for the FBI,” she said.
She said that they help assist local jurisdictions even when federal charges are not brought. She would indicate that, while they are monitoring the local prosecution effort, she would not rule out the possibility of federal charges at a later point.
She indicated that they turn over all evidence to the US Attorney’s Office, which makes the determination as to whether there will be federal charges.
“The local law enforcement is the first responder, we work jointly, and offer our assistance,” Agent Miller said. “In this case, we were able and happy to help.” She said there are federal hate crime laws that will be evaluated. “It will take a length of time for the US Attorney’s Office” to evaluate this case.
Chief Darren Pytel indicated that Ms. Kirk-Coehlo “was cooperative during the arrest” but declined to comment on specifics of what she told investigators.
“We received quite a bit of information after we released the video surveillance and detectives were able to piece together aspects of the crime,” Chief Pytel added. He noted that “at this point she is the only suspect and we don’t believe that other people are involved.”
Mr. Reisig told the press “in order to file these charges we had to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence submitted to us by the Davis Police Department and the FBI that we could prove these charges. We believe that.”
He did acknowledge this was an unusual case, stating, “My office in the last ten years has not prosecuted a case like this.”
Regarding the bail, according to the Yolo County Bail Schedule the defendant should have received about a $60,000 bail, but instead it was $1 million. Jeff Reisig explained that the judge set the bail and “he was provided facts by the Davis Police Department at the time the arrest warrant was issued, I’m not privy to all of the facts that were provided at the time that he issued the bail, but I can say that based on the seriousness of this felony offense, the fact that it is a hate crime and that she faces up to six years in prison, it’s certainly a serious offense.”
Chief Darren Pytel declined to comment on Kirk-Coehlo’s relationship to a judge. The Vanguard later learned that she is the daughter of an administrative law judge in Sacramento.
He indicated that this remains an active investigation, they are still in the early stages of the prosecution, and they are simply not able to release all of the pertinent details at this time.
Chief Pytel would add, “Hate is not something that is viable here in Davis and we will stand up and denounce it. We take these crimes very (seriously).”
CAIR-SV (Council on American-Islamic Relations, Sacramento Valley) in a release said that they welcomed the arrest in the hate crime investigation.
CAIR-SV Executive Director Basim Elkarra said: “CAIR and the American Muslim community thank the Davis Police Department, the FBI and the Yolo County District Attorney’s office for their swift investigation and arrest in the case. We also extend our gratitude to the UC Davis and City of Davis community for their tremendous show of support to the Muslim community in the aftermath of the incident.”
Islamic Center of Davis President Amr Zedan said: “On behalf of the Islamic Center of Davis and the Muslim community, we would like to thank the Davis and Yolo county communities for all their support and donations as well as our neighbors who gave us flowers and unwavering support. This incident showed the beautiful good will of Americans and that our communities stand united. As a Muslim community we are forgiving and merciful, but we hope that the perpetrator has the chance to reflect upon her actions and the grief she caused to our community.”
Hamza El-Nakhal a resident of Davis since 1969, said at the January rally in Central Park that he had already forgiven the perpetrator. He said that “if we ever get to catch this woman, we just want to talk to her. I really have forgiven her in my heart. After you see all this love, in fact, I’m grateful to her.
“In my heart I’m completely at peace, I already have forgiven her,” he said. “I just want to talk to her. I don’t know what she feels in her heart, definitely she feels something not good.”
He attended the press conference and spoke to the Vanguard later in the day, indicating that he would like to have a chance to sit down with her. He said that she probably had never interacted with Muslims previously.
While the Yolo County DA has taken a hard line, tough-on-crime stance, members of the community have suggested more restorative approaches in this case.
Mayor Robb Davis told the Vanguard, “Though this case will be prosecuted by the state, in the person of the District Attorney, this is not a crime against a disembodied state.
“It is a crime against real people—members of the Islamic Center of Davis,” he said. “They experience the harms in the most direct way as their deepest faith identity is attacked.”
The mayor continued, “Leaders of the Islamic Center have already expressed that they have a need to understand ‘why.’ They desire the opportunity to face the offender and ask some questions. Questions like ‘why did you do this to us? What were you thinking? Do you mean us further harm? Do you even know who we are?’ They would like a chance to show the offender that they are human.
“I truly hope that in the coming period that the process of adjudicating this case will include the possibility of a victim offender conference during which these questions can be answered, the offender can take responsibility, and the harms can be made as right as possible. This is the vision of restorative justice that I believe is important to our community. Such a process would need to be voluntary but it holds out hope that the victims can have their needs met and the offender, having acknowledged the harms, can be welcomed back into our community.”
As indicated, the defendant will be arraigned on February 16 at 8:30 am at the Yolo County Superior Court.
—David M. Greenwald reporting