And suddenly it was over. The case, which first angered the community when a then unidentified woman casually vandalized the Davis Islamic Center – and then scared the community when it was revealed that she had made extensive threats that persuaded prosecutors and then multiple judges to put $1 million bail on a vandalism/hate crime case – has ended with the 30-year-old defendant, Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, surprising everyone with a plea to the sheet.
This was not a negotiated plea with the defendant admitting to some charges in exchange for leniency. Rather, this was a plea to all charges in which she puts herself at the mercy of the court.
Judge Dan Maguire will now sentence Ms. Kirk-Coehlo on June 16, with the charges against her including felony vandalism with a “hate crime” enhancement, and vandalism to a church, having a maximum sentence of six years in prison.
Defense Attorney Steven Sabbadini indicated that the defendant wanted to take responsibility for her actions and leave it up to the court’s discretion to determine an appropriate sentence.
During the early morning hours of January 22, 2017, Ms. Kirk-Coehlo, through her plea, now acknowledges that she vandalized the Islamic Center of Davis. Surveillance video footage at the Center showed a woman we now know as Ms. Kirk-Coehlo smashing six window panes and placing strips of bacon on the door handle and destroying two bicycles on the property.
In late January, hundreds of community members came to Central Park to show support for the Islamic Community, which has felt under assault since the 2016 campaign and elections.
Long-time community member Hamza El-Nakhal captured the moment when 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.”
But the charging document showed something much more sinister in Ms. Kirk-Coehlo’s actions, which convinced two judges to put a million dollar bail on her.
Details emerged in an affidavit filed by Daniel La Fond, the Davis PD detective assigned to the case, in support of raising the bail from the bail schedule amount of $40,000 to what Judge Samuel McAdam determined to be $1 million.
He wrote, “The investigation into the suspect, Kirk-Coehlo has raised many public concerns. During the service of a search warrant at her residence by the FBI and, Davis Police, Kirk-Coehlo’s wireless telephone was seized.”
A search into her Twitter account showed her praising Dylann Roof, who was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing nine people in 2015 in the Charleston, South Carolina, African American church.
“While glorifying Roof” she allegedly posted “‘3 cheers for Dylan Roof’ then post(ed) how intelligent Roof was in interviews.” Detective La Fond wrote, “The party she is sending private messages back and forth with on Twitter asks her if she had ever killed anything. Kirk-Coehlo replied, ‘No but I have dreams and aspirations’ ‘I would like to kill’ ‘many people.’ Sent in 3 separate messages.”
A search of Ms. Kirk-Coehlo’s cell showed her “making derogatory remarks using the terms ‘Jews, Mexicans and N—s’ on a regular basis.”
She also reportedly conversed “via text with her mother about her ‘mental problems’ and made several searches about the Davis Mosque, Woodland Mosque and other Mosques in the country.”
Judge McGuire will now have to balance a number of factors – the nature of the crime itself, the nature of her comments as they became known during the bail hearings, her mental status and her lack of prior criminal records.
The defense during the bail hearing rejected the prosecution’s no bail arguments, but the court kept the million dollar bail in place.
Defense Attorney David Dratman argued, as he did in his motion, that, based on the initial discovery, “it is clear that the perpetrator of this crime possessed no weapons or firearms of any type. The crimes charged are no crimes of violence or crimes involving threatened violence to a person or a group.
“Hyperbole should not substitute for a judge’s ability to set appropriate conditions for release,” Mr. Dratman argued. He stated he believed that the conditions imposed could ensure that the community is protected. “While people might deplore what was said, it’s free speech under the First Amendment,” he argued.
Now it will be in the hands of Judge Maguire to determine the appropriate sentence in this complicated case.
—David M. Greenwald reporting