Breaking News: Islamic Center Vandal Avoids Prison Time, Gets Probation and Time Served

Despite a strong argument from Deputy DA Ryan Couzens for prison time, Judge Dan Maguire on Friday sentenced Lauren Kirk-Coehlo to five years of formal probation following the recommendations of the probation department.

Ms. Kirk-Coehlo plead to the sheet and admitted to among other things a charge of felony vandalism and vandalism on a religious facility with hate crime enhancements.  The maximum sentence was six years, but it was a probation eligible crime.

At the outset Judge Maguire indicated that Ms. Kirk-Coehlo would be eligible for release at some point – this was not a life sentence and the question for him was whether the community safer in the long run with her in prison or with her on probation but getting more intense treatment for various mental health challenges that she faced.

Deputy DA Couzens told Judge Maguire that he disagreed with the facts behind the decision by the probation department to recommend probation rather than prison time.  Mr. Couzens argued that contrary to the probation report, events were more serious than the comparable case, that she used a weapon to smash the Mosque, and that the victim here was more vulnerable than the probation report acknowledged.

He repeated his argument from the bail hearing that this was in effect a violent crime where she literally “shattered” the safety of the congregations.  “I can’t see how members of the Mosque felt as safe after the attack as they did before this occurred,” he argued.

Moreover this was not an event that was subject to one-time provocation.  “This act occurred because of hate, not because of provocation,” he argued.

Mr. Couzens also argued that there was not major mental health issue found by the court appointed psychiatrist.  “Treatment for what?” he asked incredulously when responding to the probation recommendation for mental health treatment.

“There is no bonified mental health condition that can be addressed,” he said.

He also disputed the notion that she expressed remorse.  He said that she acknowledged her conduct inappropriate, but said that’s not the same as being sorry or apologizing.  She said that she was thinking clearly and that she was expressing political dissent over the treatment of women by the Islamic community.

“She is 30 years old and a college graduate,” he argued, “she should understand that what she did was wrong.”

Mr. Couzens argued she was a great danger to the community as she “acted out her animus towards minority groups.”  He doubled down on his argument from the bail hearing, arguing, “I think that’s absurd” that her act was not violent.  He said it had the impact of a violent act.

He would add, “I’m not outraged… It makes me afraid.”

The people are asking for prison, he said.  Five years of supervision will not prevent her from representing a danger to the community.

Co-counsel for the defense, David Dratman and Steve Sabaddini responded.

Mr. Dratman argued that Mr. Couzens was basing his argument on caselaw for a sentencing scheme that does not exist and that he was relying on old case law when the department of probation had relied upon proper case law to make their recommendation.

Mr. Dratman pointed out that the probation department was well aware of her comments and had considered them carefully when they made their recommendation.  He countered that thoughts, in this case in private messages, do not always translate into actions.

They had found no evidence of weapons and no evidence that she had reasonably tried to acquire weapons.

Moreover this is not a life case and they had the chance here to change her life for the better.  That would not happen, Mr. Dratman argued in a prison where the type of treatment she needed would not be available to her.

He added that he believes that she has made an honest acceptance of responsibility and that not everything that is punished must be punished with prison.

Mr. Sabaddini pointed out that he disagrees that she has not taken responsibility.  He read her words that her actions were “completely inappropriate and prejudicial.”

He pointed out that they have a probation department that makes a risk assessment and they came out with the conclusion that she was a low risk – if she got the treatment that she needed.

He also pointed out the psychologist Dr. Gerbasi, an experience psychiatrist who works in the courts and often for the prosecution, opined that she had counseled Ms. Kirk-Coehlo for years and believed she could work with her again to overcome her challenges.

Mr. Sabaddini argued that the psychiatrists view should be given great weight.

She has no real criminal record other than a misdemeanor trespassing years ago and that she suffers from no major psychological disorders.  Instead, she has an immature personality structure and would not get the help she needed in prison.

Mr. Sabaddini said if you read the definition of crime of violence, this fits it in “no way, shape or form.”  This is a property crime, through and through he argued.

For Judge Maguire this came down to an assessment of public safety and rehabilitation.  He said that the sentence choice needs to be the one to enhance public safety in the long term.

In many ways he agreed with the people.  He found this was more serious than other similar crimes.  He agreed on the vulnerability of the Muslim community in these times, the emotional injury as well as the monetary loss.

A big issue was her lack of prior criminal conduct and her successful completion of probation for the past charge.

He stated that he saw no reason why she couldn’t comply with probation and he took issue with the prosecutor, finding that she had expressed remorse even if it wasn’t in the perfect terms the prosecutor was implying necessary.

He also found her to be a low risk.

Judge Maguire therefore ruled that the community would be served by a grant of probation where she could get the treatment she needed.  He said her past shows she thrives when treated but falls off the rails when not treated.

He gave her five years of probation.  He stated that this was serious enough to warrant prison, a prison term wouldn’t have been out of line, but felt that the community was best served otherwise.  She received a sentence of 324 days with time served except for the last 119 days, which he suspended.

She also received 120 hours of community service, a stay away order, $7600 in restitution to repair the damage she did, cultural sensitivity, and treatment from Dr. Gerbasi.

Judge Maguire noted correspondence from Mayor Robb Davis urging a restorative justice process which he said he would consider, but only if the victim was willing.  Mr. Couzens was strongly supportive of it, but the defense was a bit more equivocal.

Ultimately he ordered a review on the 25th of August where restorative justice issue would be taken up.

She also received a no fire arm provision and is forbidden access to social media.  She will be on searchable probation for five years.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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32 Comments

        1. David Greenwald

          I think they have a point – if a Muslim had done this to a church, had been on Twitter talking about Jihad and ISIS and killing as many Americans as possible, it’s hard to imagine they would not get prison time.

      1. John Hobbs

        ” if a Muslim had done this to a church, had been on Twitter talking about Jihad and ISIS and killing as many Americans as possible, it’s hard to imagine they would not get prison time.”

        True, although that should not really be a factor in any judge’s process of sentencing.

    1. Jim Hoch

      They busted an illegal immigrant down in LA with 5KG of coke and $300K in his apartment. His wife was detained by La Migra at the same time. Activists were outraged, how could she know he was dealing serious weight of coke out their apartment?

      It all depends on your prejudices.

  1. John Hobbs

    Wow. I agree that she needs treatment, although I  can’t help but ask the same questions as Couzens: What would the actual diagnosis be? I am not comfortable with her just walking free with a nominal fine and time served. I hope that Maguire’s decision doesn’t bite anyone on the butt. In light of the climate of hate pervading our culture, I think a stronger message would have been sent by making her serve out the 119 days.

    I sympathize with the members of the Islamic community quoted in the Enterprise:

    Mohamed Kheiter said while he forgives Kirk-Coehlo and wants her to be rehabilitated, he fears her release may inspire others to commit similar crimes “because in the end they walk out,” he said. “That’s the message. It just gives them the green light to do something like that.”

    “We think she has a lot of hate, and we have great concerns,” added Hamza

    El-Nakhal, the board’s former president. “We just have to take further action to

    protect ourselves.”

    Those seem like reasonable concerns.

    1. David Greenwald

      She’s not “free” – she’s on supervised probation and searchable probation with mandatory counseling and random searches.  I would feel better with a restorative process.

      1. Howard P

        I’d feel better is it was “both”, not either/or…  it seems readily apparent that there are MH issues that I can not see addressed with the RJ process…

      2. Roberta Millstein

        THey have mandatory counseling.  Although there is no specific MH issue here.

        Is there any reason to think that her MH issues were related to her commission of the crime?  What does “immature personality structure” have to do with having racist beliefs and acting on them in a violent fashion meant to intimidate and instill fear?

  2. John Hobbs

    “she’s on supervised probation”

    Unless she gets caught in the act of a crime by local pd or has a kilo of coke on her kitchen table when and if the probation officer gets around to a visit, she’s operationally free.

    ” I would feel better with a restorative process.”

    “but the defense was a bit more equivocal.

    Ultimately he ordered a review on the 25th of August where restorative justice issue would be taken up.”

    Let us see how this goes. I doubt that the defense will be any more enthusiastic by August unless their client runs afoul of the law, in the interim.

    I am hopeful about the success of the “cultural sensitivity and treatment.”  I have seen a few examples of people successfully changing their attitudes and behaviors.

  3. Jim Hoch

    It’s an interesting comment from the DA that since she went to college she should know that vandalizing a house of worship is wrong. What class is particular do you think he was referring to? Somewhat insulting to people who have not gone to college.

    Anyway my takeaway from this is to save the names of those defense attorneys because, well you never know…

    1. David Greenwald

      It was never mentioned during the hearing and apparently not in the probation report of the psychiatrists report that she was bipolar. In fact all sides appeared to agree that she did not suffer from anything of the sort. So I’m skeptical of that.

      1. David Greenwald

        “Treatment for what?” Ryan Couzens asked incredulously when responding to the probation recommendation for mental health treatment.
        “There is no bonafied mental health condition that can be addressed,” he said.
        If she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the defense would have responded to Mr. Couzens, but they didn’t.

        1. David Greenwald

          You’re completely wrong – it was a close call as to what the judge was going to do. I’m sorry but they spent enough time – judge, prosecutor, defense – going over the probation report and Dr. Gerbassi’s evaluation – the defense read from it – it would have come out.  I don’t think bipolar is a current diagnosis for her based on what was presented yesterday.

  4. John Hobbs

    ”  I don’t think bipolar is a current diagnosis for her based on what was presented yesterday.”

    Then why shouldn’t she be serving the full time for the crime?  Barring mental issues, this is a white woman getting a pass because of social status.

  5. John Hobbs

    “Bipolar isn’t the only form of mental illness”

    So is “racism” the diagnosis? I’m unclear on what you think it is. The judge apparently  believes that it is the same bi-polar disorder for which she was previously being treated:He said her past shows she thrives when treated but falls off the rails when not treated.

    1. David Greenwald

      The judge doesn’t think that because the term bipolar was never used in court to describe her condition and the DA openly questioned that there was no diagnosis.

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