The County Human Rights Commission held their regular fourth Tuesday meeting in Santa Rosa on April 23, and a large number of parents concerned about the alleged hate crime at El Verano School on March 29 were in attendance, according to Kristin Land of Sonoma.
Land is the mother of the 18-year old who was assaulted in that incident, and it was her impassioned speech to the Sonoma City Council on April 1 during public comment that put the issues of hate crime and local gang activity back in the public eye.
To her surprise, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Capt. Rob Giordano offered a formal apology to her this Tuesday for his patrol department’s failure to report the issue as a hate crime when it took place.
“That was our failure that night,” he told Land, according to a story in today’s Press Democrat. Giordano also told the commision that an internal investigation was underway. Four Sheriff's deputies were on the scene following the assault, but no arrests or search for suspects were made for several days.
“It was quite a surprise to us,” said Land in a conversation Thursday. “We were pretty shocked. We’ve been through three weeks of being given the run-around… It’s a good feeling” to receive the apology, she said.
On that Friday night, March 29, the 18-year old openly gay student left home about 10:30 to meet friends at the elementary school. He rode his skateboard to the school, and was looking for his friends when he says he was assault by about seven young men who beat and kicked him, took his wallet and cell phone, and called him anti-gay names.
Several of his friends who were nearby come to his defense, and were also assaulted by the presumed gang members.
But as Land told Patch, “He did not see any colors. The people who attacked him were half white, half were Hispanic. It’s not a racial thing.”
When the responding officers took the report, however, they discounted his testimony that his sexual orientation was a factor in the assault. Instead they warned him of what colors not to wear, not to ride a skateboard, and stay away from the neighborhood because it was gang “turf.”
Land and her husband were present at the time and realized that the officers were not acknowledging the hate crime aspect of the young man’s report. “I turned to the officer and said, ‘I want to report a hate crime’,” she said.
The patrol officers reports of the incident did not mention that hate crime aspect of the attack, recording it as a “Fight” in the Sheriff’s Office logs that night.
It apparently wasn’t until after Land appeared before the City Council the following Monday night that any follow-up was taken by the Sheriff’s Office, a failure that Capt. Giordano acknowledged at the Human Rights Commission meeting this week.
During the week that followed, Sonoma Police chief Bret Sackett met with Land to discuss the case. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office is contracted to serve as City of Sonoma Police Department, so there is an overlap of personnel; the incident took place outside Sonoma city limits.
It was a week later, on April 5, that the first suspect, a 17-year old juvenile was apprehended. A couple days later 19-year Francisco Emeliano Serna was also arrested; both have been charged with the hate crime, in additon to assault and other charges resulting both frmo the incident and their subsequent arrests. Gang crime enforcement in the Valley is up over the past few weeks overall.
“A report wasn’t taken that night, and it should have been,” he said. “We are not perfect. We make mistakes,” he said, according to PD coverage by columnist Chris Smith.
County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley, and Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch were also at the meeting, and also told the assembly they would be following up.
“The whole point of this story is that incidents are going unreported,” Land told Patch. “Kids are afraid to come forward. The one someone does come forward, the police do not report it.
“When a violent thing happens, the community has a right to know.”