After a four-month investigation conducted by 13 law-enforcement agencies, Arroyo Grande, Calif., police on Friday charged four white transients with a March cross burning.
The cross burning, only yards from the bedroom window of a home shared by a mixed-race teen and her Latina mother, shocked this bucolic, Central Coast tourist mecca. The cross burning placed the community of about 17,000 — known for its wineries, pristine beaches and rolling hills — under a media microscope for several weeks.
All four suspects — three men and a woman ranging in age from 20 to 36 — had previously been in custody at the San Luis Obispo County Jail on a variety of charges, including receiving stolen property, said police Chief Steven Anabali. All four, Anabali told The Root, "have criminal histories."
Arraignment of the four is expected by Monday evening, said Anabali, who believes that bail for each of the four "will be set at very high amounts." None of the four suspects is employed, Anabali said. Before charging them on Friday, he said, "we were doing all we could to keep an eye on them" to build a solid case.
While none of the suspects has been linked to white supremacist groups, Anabali said, "Investigators do have concerns that some of them may have white supremacist tendencies." Enhancements "of committing a hate crime while acting in concert" have been filed against all four suspects. The four are Jason W. Kahn, 36, who claims he is an Orcutt, Calif., resident; Jeremiah L. Hernandez, 32, and Sara K. Matheny, 24, both of whom say they're from San Simeon; William Soto, 20, the youngest among the group, who was the only one purporting to live in Arroyo Grande.
"All of them," Anabali said, "are covered with tattoos." Kahn, he continued, "is the scariest looking of the four and has white supremacist markings." Kahn will be charged with an additional felony, intimidating a witness, Anabali said.
Identifying and charging Kahn and the three other suspects, said Cyndi Silverman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties, "was the result of an excellent collaboration between numerous law-enforcement agencies, government and community organizations. The charges against the four suspects mean a lot of good things for Arroyo Grande."
One of them, she said, was "the creation of the Five City Diversity Committee, which is working with communities [in the area] to make sure this doesn't happen again and that people of diverse backgrounds will feel welcome here."
Silverman predicted that the committee "will be a prototype for other cities which have experienced these kinds of hate crimes." She said she "was never concerned that Arroyo Grande police wouldn't catch them. The police department was very vigilant from the beginning and did an excellent job of really putting together a good case before they arrested them."
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