My View: Restorative Justice Will Be the Key to Islamic Center Vandalism

There was a lot of anger and apprehension that came out of Judge Dan Maguire’s decision to grant Lauren Kirk-Coehlo probation rather than prison time.  And there is justification for that view.

There are those who believe that a person of color committing a similar crime would have gotten prison time for sure – and indeed it’s hard to picture that a Muslim attacking a Christian church, with sympathies for Jihad and ISIS and threats to kill all Americans, wouldn’t have gotten prison time.

At the same time, it is clear – as both Deputy DA Ryan Couzens’ and the victim’s impact statement indicated – that Muslims in this community and this nation feel extremely vulnerable.  We saw what happened in Portland.  We’ve seen a rise of anti-Islamic hate crimes.  And the actions of Kirk-Coehlo did lasting emotional harm.

I don’t want to downplay either point because they are completely valid.

Instead, I want to take you into the decision that Judge Maguire found himself having to make.  In a way, he was choosing between the lesser of two suboptimal decisions.  A big factor in his decision is that the maximum sentence here would have been six years.

This was not a violent crime – despite the contortions that Mr. Couzens made – and therefore, given that she had effectively no priors (trespassing from years ago really is not applicable here) – the judge was stuck acknowledging that she would be out after a few years and we still had to figure out what to do with her at that point.

This is a point I’ve made many times in this case.  This is not a life sentence.  Ryan Couzens argued, hey at least we’ll be safe while she’s in prison, and Judge Maguire weighed in on what the long-term best interest of the community was going to be.

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.

He said that a prison sentence would not be unreasonable.

He did have probation’s assessment that she was a low risk if she received treatment.

A big part of his decision came down to the fact that the treating psychiatrist, Dr. Joan Gerbasi, believed that with treatment Kirk-Coehlo would overcome her identified mental condition – an immature personality structure.

The belief expressed by the defense, probation, the psychiatrist and ultimately the judge was that, in prison, she would not get the level of care she needed.

“Treatment for what?” Ryan Couzens asked incredulously when responding to the probation recommendation for mental health treatment.

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

Is this enough?  The judge put every supervision restriction he could on her.  Five years of probation.  It is searchable probation.  She has stay away orders.  She can’t have weapons or use social media.  She has to get cultural sensitivity training and receive intensive weekly psychiatric treatment.

Is that enough?

I think Judge Maguire made a solid point when he said that her past shows that she thrives when treated, but falls off the rails when not treated.

This is not going to calm anyone who is nervous, but to be honest I agree with Judge Maguire here.  The problem you have is that prison is not a place to treat people in need of help.  Prison is where you put someone who needs separation from society and where you punish people.  The downside is that people often come out more hardened and angry than before.

What we need is a different paradigm.  Our traditional criminal justice system, when a crime occurs, asks the questions, “What law was broken?  Who broke it?  And how do we punish that person?”

As abhorrent and damaging as Ms. Kirk-Coehlo’s crime was, the answer is not to sever her from humanity, but rather to bring her back into our community.

The way to do that is not through punishment, but through restorative justice.

Mayor Robb Davis sent a letter to Judge Dan Maguire and the attorneys for both sides asking for a restorative justice process.

The mayor wrote, “I am not certain of your knowledge of restorative justice but it is an alternative legal theory that views crime as an offense, not against the state, but against humans and human relationships.  It articulates harms caused by crime as having implications for community health and seeks to build accountability by providing a process for offenders to face their victims in a carefully facilitated process.

“This process enables victims to explain the harms caused by the act and to seek, with the offender, a way forward that enable the harms to be made right, as much as possible, and assure they will not be repeated.”

Mayor Davis noted, “Over the past few months I have been in touch with a former prosecutor—Fred Van Lew—who has used restorative justice in the case of hate crimes.  Mr. Van Lew has also used these processes when the offender was living with mental health challenges.  He has strongly encouraged me to press the actors to consider a restorative approach in this case.”

He added, “As a resident of Davis, you understand what makes for a healthy and thriving community and I believe that if it is possible to provide an opportunity for the victims to meet the offender in this case that it will be an important step towards community healing in this event.”

Judge Maguire indicated that he would be amenable to that if the victims were agreeable.

Deputy DA Ryan Couzens was supportive of the idea.

However, the defense team was more guarded.  They wanted to consult with the psychiatrist on whether she thought this was in the best interest of their client.

The issue will come back on August 25 at a review hearing.

I am a strong believer in restorative justice because it allows for the victim to confront the perpetrator and make them aware of the impact of the crime, to force the individual through a mediation process to acknowledge harms done to the community, and to put together a plan to redress those harms in a way that is not possible under the current confines of the criminal justice system.

Under a traditional approach, Ms. Kirk-Coehlo would serve her period of probation, do her treatment, and hopefully stay out of trouble.  The restorative justice process would force her to accept a much greater level of responsibility and do more than simply pay for the damage to the property.

Will this work?  I don’t know.  I understand people’s anxiety and anger over this.  But I think Judge Maguire carefully weighed his options and decided that this one had the best chance of being the best choice for the community.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Dianne C Tobias

    I agree that this case appears perfect for a restorative justice remedy along with the other stipulations.

    As I remember there were amazingly compassionate voices from the Islamic community at the time of the incident that could provide for an effective RJ outcome. But the defense is wise to want to review the idea with the psychiatrist who apparently has treated the defendant in the past and will be part of the ongoing treatment. If not now, maybe RJ in the future and/or maybe with the aid of the psychiatrist.

    I know the DV and especially Robb Davis have written about RJ in the past. I would appreciate more on the topic especially with more detail on individual cases as long as privacy is protected.

  2. John Hobbs

    There is certainly no justice here for the victims. RJ is only valid if the criminal takes responsibility and clearly that is not the case here. She is still playing this terrorist act off as a prank, with which apparently the judge tacitly agrees. Disgusting.

    1. David Greenwald

      I’m not sure how you arrive at that conclusion.  She wrote a letter in which she acknowledged her actions were “inappropriate and prejudicial”

      1. John Hobbs

        That falls far short of an apology or acknowledgement of responsibility..

        “I have no intention of engaging in violence toward any person,” she added, and said she looks forward to resuming psychiatric counseling with Dr. Joan Gerbasi “to discuss what happened, why, and to make sure that something like this does not happen again.”

        Sort of like Trump’s response to “What have you sacrificed?”

        What happened was that she vandalized the mosque and terrorized the members. This is not of sufficient weight to warrant more than a slap on the wrist from Maguire.  This is a clear message to the minority community: Your loss of sanctuary is less important than making sure your white tormentor doesn’t suffer any further impediment to her agenda, be it her health,her professional aspirations.

        One hopes for close supervision here, but if those in charge of that task are as reticent to perform their duty as the judge, look out!


        Read more here:

        1. John Hobbs

          Do you believe that letting her walk with 119 days suspended sends a positive message to the victims? Letting her serve out the sentence would have given her time to contemplate her victims loss and given the victims some restoration of their sense of security. As it is, she is already planning her future, for good or bad.

  3. Roberta Millstein

    I’m still a bit baffled about what the connection between “immature personality structure” and “has racist beliefs and acts on them in a violent way” is supposed to be.  And if there is no connection, then how will psychiatric care change anything that is relevant to this crime?

    1. David Greenwald

      I think you’re asking a good but complex question.

      This is an interesting article:

      I also think that as racism (at least in this form) has moved from the mainstream to the fringes, the underlying issues have shifted over time, which I suspect is something we have not fully explored.

      1. Roberta Millstein

        This is an interesting article:

        Oy, really?  It’s not bad enough that we attribute every violent crime committed by whites to psychological disorders (persons of color are usually not given this excuse), but now, racism too?  If racism is a mental illness, then the vast majority of us are mentally ill.  Which pretty much defeats the whole idea of mental illness as a significant deviation from what’s “normal.”

        as racism (at least in this form) has moved from the mainstream to the fringes

        Funny, it seems to me that it has shifted from the fringes to the mainstream in the last few years.

        Look, I wouldn’t be surprised if some forms of mental illness could be connected to some racist beliefs/actions.  But what is the connection between her specific mental illness and racism?  Was this explained at the trial?

        1. David Greenwald

          I don’t know the answer to your fundamental question.  I also haven’t read the full psychiatric report.

          I think we are making of a mistake by creating a broad label of racism when there is a spectrum of different beliefs and actions that can fall under it.  And I think at the end of the day, the question here is why she went as far as to call for killing as many people as possible based on racial animus and I think that’s different from things like unconscious bias or stereotypes, etc.

          I studied political psychology and unconscious bias in graduate school, I think we’re still scratching the surface of understanding this stuff.

        2. John Hobbs

          Which pretty much defeats the whole idea of mental illness as a significant deviation from what’s “normal.”

          Indeed. As I have asked before, should we give that small percentage of sociopaths who commit a violent crime a break, when 99% of sociopaths become supervisors, license examiners, professors or psychologists with no tendency toward physical violence?

          I seldom side with Marcos Breton, but in this case, he’s right. The judge should have sent a strong message to would-be vandals and terrorists, instead of an invitation.

        3. David Greenwald

          I’m skeptical about that point.  After all, what is the typical crime for an act of vandalism, it is certainly not prison, even if they are caught.

    2. Anya McCann

      Roberta, while really ill, the kind of personal growth we expect gets stunted while the brain is off doing other things….when people are in successful treatment medically, it can allow their underlying personality and brain time and ability to mature. So if she is undet treatment successfully and gets sensativity training through RJ while in that improved state of mind it would perhaps ‘stick’ and become an integrated part of her more mature self. I am not a doctor but that is what I’ve seen in younger folks. I’m not sure how that works when one is 30. But seems like a good bet to try.

      1. Roberta Millstein

        Sorry, Anya, that just sounds really speculative to me.  By all means, let her have treatment.  By all means, let’s pursue restorative justice.  But I’m just not yet convinced there is any connection.  Seems like instead we have a racist person who also happens to have a mental illness.

        1. John Hobbs

          Seems like instead we have a racist person who also happens to have a mental illness.


          (If there was a “like” button, I wouldn’t have to post, but considering the limitations of David’s web folks, I dasn’t. I also realize in egalitarian Davisville, everyone would get a “like” for participating so the point would be lost.)

  4. Anya McCann

    Thanks,  David. I think RJ would be an excellent way for everyone involved to get the most out of this terrible situation. One hopes that what she will learn and be sensitized about while in a better state of health will hold in place if her mental health goes down hill for periods. It can be hard to keep some people compliant medically.  I’m sure her family and doctor will do their best. But we don’t have systems in place to force people to be compliant. We now (in California) protect individuals from being locked up in mental hospitals with no protections and little oversight, as was the case in the past. But we did not replace that system with one that provides ongoing care for the ill and safety measures for families and society. Our only other institutional  option is prison. We have a long way to go to find a solution to that part of the equasion in this case. But I think RJ is the best, with the best possible community outcomes among the options available.

  5. John Hobbs

    “I studied political psychology and unconscious bias in graduate school, I think we’re still scratching the surface of understanding this stuff.

    Stop scratching, sniff and you should recognize the scent.


  6. John Hobbs

    ” After all, what is the typical crime for an act of vandalism, it is certainly not prison, even if they are caught.”

    Perhaps it should be, depending on the scale of the vandalism. This of course is a deflection from the real crime which is terrorism. Treating Ms Kirk-Coehlo as a common vandal, ignores the real and antisocial context of her act.

    1. David Greenwald

      She wasn’t treated as a common vandal. I guarantee that a common vandal wouldn’t have spent four months in custody or receive 5 years of probation. Would an additional six months in custody have changed much? That’s all Breton was advocating for.

  7. John Hobbs

    “Would an additional six months in custody have changed much?”

    It very well might have for the victims, who’s worthiness of regard you continue to discount.

    1. David Greenwald

      I disagree – we have the same issues in six months as we do now.  Possibly worse because she won’t get the prescribed treatment in prison that she will now.

    2. Tia Will


      It very well might have for the victims, who’s worthiness of regard you continue to discount.”

      El-Nakhal added that if he could speak to her directly and resolve her questions about Islam, he would feel better. “

      Which of the “victims” are you referring to ? Is it members of the mosque that you are referring to? While it is clear from the quotes in the article you posted that there is some discomfort with the thought of her “walking free”, that is not what the judgement is. It seems the only reported representative of the mosque would favor some kind of restorative approach. So if he favors that, who do you believe amongst the “victims” is not being represented. Or are you simply saying that you do not agree with the judgement, which is of course your right as a citizen.



      1. John Hobbs

        Kind of late in June to be cherry picking, but go for it, doc.

        You neglected to include the main text of the quote, an oversight, I’m sure.

        Hamza El-Nakhal, former president and CEO of the Davis Islamic Center, said Friday that the idea of Kirk-Coehlo “walking out of this court free is very troubling not only to Muslims, but to African Americans and Latinos I have spoken with. If she’d expressed even some remorse, I’d be much more supportive.”


        Read more here:

  8. John Hobbs

    It seems that the Vanguard believes that certain people are too white for jail,  judging by your disgusting justifications and pleas for mercy for Mr. Thompson and Ms. Kirk-Coehlo, while having nothing but bile for one victim (African-American) and complete disregard for the others. (Muslims)

    1. Tia Will


      And I think that David was far too generous in his response to your ridiculous comment of 11 am. David has repeatedly published articles about inequities in the justice system based on skin pigmentation as well as other characteristics that people use to classify humans into in and out groups. You have been reading/posting long enough to  be well aware of this.

      1. Ron

        David:  I agree that it’s strange to be arguing for strict punishment (e.g., in this case, and “the pie guy”), while simultaneously making outrageous (previous) statements regarding the police.

        Who, exactly, is supposed to enforce the laws and subsequent “punishment” (that are being advocated for so strongly), then?

        And now, you’re also “downplaying” racism?

        Does any of this make any sense?

        1. David Greenwald

          I’m not downplaying racism. I absolutely believe that a POC would have gotten a stricter sentence and potentially a prison sentence in this case.

        2. Ron

          David:  “I’m not downplaying racism. I absolutely believe that a POC would have gotten a stricter sentence and potentially a prison sentence in this case.”

          (Had to “paste” your quote here, since I can’t see it when I’m logged in.)

          I know that you’re not downplaying racism.  (Hence – the question mark that I included.)

          As a side note, are some of us “PONC’s”?  (Persons of “No Color”?)   As someone once said to me, “I resemble that remark!”

          Speaking of “initials” (regarding the frequent references to MH), what does “he” have to do with this?  Doesn’t he get blamed for enough things, around here?

          Sorry – just my sense of humor regarding all of this, I guess. 🙂

          In any case, John has an “unusual” combination of arguments.

        3. Ron

          My color can be “red”, if I stay out in the sun too long.  (I do try to be careful, regarding that. Seriously, I’m not sure that light-colored skin is the best for sunny areas.  Still, I suspect that I’d still prefer having it in this society, overall. That is, unless I get skin cancer at some point.

          I guess that my ancestors came from forests (or caves)!

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