No hate crime charges in San Anselmo mayor’s threats case

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San Anselmo Mayor Brian Colbert pictured in San Rafael, Calif., Tuesday September 29, 2020 (Alan Dep / Marin Independent Journal)

No hate crime charges will be filed in a case involving threatening voicemail messages left for San Anselmo Mayor Brian Colbert, the county’s senior prosecutor said.

District attorney Lori Frugoli said although the voicemail messages were offensive, no laws were broken. The announcement ends a six-month investigation into the phone messages, which some city officials have called hateful.

In May, three after-hours messages were left on a city voicemail box. The appellant used racist language, police said, indicating his displeasure with Colbert and the police department. Colbert, the first black mayor of the town, has served on the municipal council since 2017.

The voicemail messages were reported to the Central Marin Police Authority and then to the Frugoli office. The caller, identified as Jared Welty, a town resident, was arrested after a search of his home revealed guns.

Investigators obtained an order restraining gun violence against him. Welty, 63, was released on bail after two days while the district attorney’s office reviewed the case. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Frugoli has come under pressure in recent months from Colbert and the city’s racial equity and social justice committee, who wrote him a letter in August asking for an update on the case. At the time, Frugoli said she would update the community in the coming weeks.

In October, without a response from the prosecutor’s office, the committee voted to send another letter requesting information about the investigation. Colbert said he also had not received an update from Frugoli on his case.

For his part, Frugoli said that “the only communication I received on behalf of the committee was received on June 21” in an email from City Manager Dave Donery on the status of the case on behalf of the ad hoc committee on racial equity in the city.

Frugoli also said she was in communication with a licensed lawyer who is Colbert’s friend and advisor. She understood that he was acting like Colbert’s lawyer.

“When my office receives information that a victim or witness is represented by a lawyer, from that point on we contact the lawyer about the case, not the person represented,” he said. she declared.

In a video posted to the prosecutor’s office website, Frugoli called the use of racist language “objectionable and disgusting”.

“This kind of hatred has no place in our society, and it has no place in Marin County. This is my personal opinion, ”she said.

Frugoli said she determined the voicemail messages were not criminal after prosecutors and a committee – deputy prosecutors, investigators and attorneys for witnesses assigned to hate crime investigations – reviewed all of the evidence .

“The underlying crimes must be identified in order to qualify the incident as a hate crime, and the incident was not qualified on the basis of state law,” she said.

Frugoli said the US Constitution allows hate speech as long as it does not interfere with the civil rights of others.

“Acts such as insults, name-calling, posting of hateful material on private property, posting of hateful material which does not cause material damage and dissemination of hateful messages in public places are considered to be hateful incidents, ”Frugoli said.

Colbert called the decision “terribly disappointing” and said he feared the decision “sends a terrible signal”.

“If you make racist threats against a Marin public official, you can do so with almost no consequences,” he said.

In California, under the Ralph Civil Rights Act, civil rights can be violated when people are victims of hate violence or threats of violence based on real or perceived personal attributes, including gender, race, color or l political affiliation.

Frugoli encouraged citizens to report possible hate crimes to local law enforcement agencies and said prosecutors will continue to assess reported incidents “to see if the underlying criminal behavior was motivated by hate. “.

Colbert said he did not seek legal advice for possible civil rights violations because he did not want the incident to interfere with his public duties.

“I spent enough time dealing with this emotionally, focusing on the safety of my family and answering questions from members of the entire community as to why the prosecutor couldn’t just provide updates. public on the schedule that she said she would have, ”he said. noted.

Board member Steve Burdo said he was also disappointed with Frugoli’s decision and process. The Central Marin Police Authority said in May that the voicemail messages “threatened physical violence and were racial in nature.”

“I think it was a missed opportunity here for the prosecutor, for all of Marin County, to say that we are going to stand up against these heinous acts,” Burdo said.

“We expect a better response from our local attorney, who has tremendous power to indict someone when incidents like this occur,” said committee chair Tiffany McElroy.

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