Arroyo Grande cross burners in custody
July 22, 2011
UPDATE: The Arroyo Grande Police Department released the results of its cross burning investigation during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Police say four suspects are in custody including, Orcutt resident Jason Kahn, 36, San Simeon transient Jeremiah Hernandez, 32, William Soto, 20, a transient from Arroyo Grande and Sara Matheny, 24, a San Simeon transient.
Each of the suspects faces charges of arson, cross burning, terrorism, and conspiracy. In addition, they have been charged with a hate crime enhancement while conspiring with others.
Kahn was also charged with witness intimidation.
There is some evidence that the suspects are connected to organized hate groups, police say.
“The motive was simply to terrorize the victim,” said Arroyo Grande Police Chief Steven Annibali.
Police say the arrests were a culmination of a huge effort on behalf of 13 law enforcement agencies, three community organizations and one fire agency.
It took 5,000 staff hours, nearly 50 interviews and nearly 100 field contacts, the chief said.
“The point I want to make is that the Arroyo Grande Police Department has taken this seriously from day one,” Annibali said.
By KAREN VELIE
Three men and one woman suspected of burning an 11-foot cross outside the Arroyo Grande bedroom window of an African-American teen in March are scheduled for video arraignments Friday morning.
All four suspects are already incarcerated in San Luis Obispo County Jail for previous alleged crimes.
The suspected leader of the gang of alleged methamphetamine users, Jason Kahn, 36, sports a swastika tattoo on the back of his bald head. Kahn has a long history of arrests for crimes such as resisting arrest, car jacking and possession of stolen property, according to court documents.
On March 18, shortly after midnight, a 19-year-old and a friend who was spending the night heard what sounded like a large truck along with other vehicles pull up to their home, and then banging that sounded like someone was breaking into their car. The teen went out on the back porch and saw no one.
The girls then went back to the bedroom, turned off the light and saw a large cross fully engulfed in flames directly outside the window. The teen ran, then yelled to her mother, and called the police.
The family, which has lived in the area for 10 years, is not being named to protect their privacy.
Police arrived and put out the flames with the family’s garden hose. They did not interview the mother or daughter that night.
The cross had been stolen from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Arroyo Grande on March 1. The cross, originally hand-made for a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, was bolted down in the church parking lot before it was stolen.
Police originally reported the incident as embers burning in an empty lot. The next morning, when the mother explained her daughter was black and asked why police had not interviewed her or her daughter or taken the group’s shovel as evidence, police started referring to the burning of the cross as a possible hate crime.
The gang originally attempted to place the cross into a hole they had started digging in the front of the house and failed because of low hanging tree branches. They then dragged the heavy cross to the side of the house.
Later that day, Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara labeled the burning of the cross outside the home of an African American as a possible prank. At a press conference in March city officials said there are no known hate groups in the area.
While some residents insist that there are no white power groups in Arroyo Grande, basic research on the Internet—including Facebook, MySpace, and Stormfront—suggests the skinhead movement enjoys many followers in this South County community.
Hate crime enhancement laws allow for longer sentencing for crimes against someone based on their race.
The gang is claiming that they burned the cross as a memorial to Kahn’s father who died almost two decades ago. In 1994, San Luis Obispo Sheriff deputies went to Ricky Kahn’s home and shot and killed a pit bull that attempted to attack officers.
Ricky Kahn, an alleged meth addict, rushed out with a knife and was shot by deputies.
The gang has not been linked to the arson outside the Arroyo Grande Police Department that occurred shortly after the cross burning.
CORRECTION: This article has been corrected following the news conference. The suspects have not been linked to the arson outside the Arroyo Grande Police Department that occurred shortly after the cross burning.