Arroyo Grande cross burners in custody

July 22, 2011

Jason Kahn

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.



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.

Sara Matheny

William Soto

Jeremiah Hernandez








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I don’t know folks. Something doesn’t pass the smell test to me. We’re left with the impression that there are four relatively hardcore skinheads who went through the trouble to put up a FOURTEEN foot cross and set it on fire to scare one average black family? And this Kahn guy doesn’t have his attention focused on harassing the police who shot his dad instead? People with rage often have it quite targeted. And anyway, it took 5000!?!?!?! man hours and 13!?!? agencies to put this all together???

OR, how about this possibility. The police, eager to get overtime hours, worked together with 12 other agencies and went on a sweep allowing them to check into anyone that they wanted to, on the basis that they were investigating this important incident. In the end, they came up with nothing except for a group of 4 skinheads who are already facing a multitude of other charges. They accuse these guys of doing this heinous act, and in a moment of poor interviewing, they are too quick to suggest that they might get deals on their other charges if they plead guilty to this one. These four inmates then communicate with each other in the jail they are all being held in and get their stories all matched up. They had already been told that if they were convicted of whatever crappy thing they did to get in their in the first place, they would be going away for a long time because of the three strikes law or a large quantity of dope involved.. And bam, case closed. I’m saying.. just a thought.. Not trying to imply this happened, sometimes my nose just works funny.

WOW! The number of comments alone tells me that racism is an overriding matter of public concern in this county and rightly so. As long as we are talking about it, there is hope. Communication is the first step and best weapon of defense. As for the statement made in the article about “no known white power groups in Arroyo Grande,” there are most definitely organized groups whose motivating force is racism. The Sourthern Poverty Law Center has identified one “white power group” in San Luis Obispo County and publishes national statistics on the subject each year. Also, the Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division probably keeps similar statistics for those who care to study the issue and its remedies. Until then, the best remedy I found is to keep the lines of communication open, and also know when to take a break from the discussion. Then, come back to it later. Another importantant point I learned from a friend, who told me, “It doesn’t matter who is right. What matters is what you feel.” It helps to get that point across when you are faced with someone who always manages “to win” the argument and tries to make you feel that you are “wrong.” What matters is the way a person feels about an issue, and then discussion can go forward with that person’s feelings taken into account, even if s/he cannot argue the point s/he wants to make as convincingly as the next person.

So right or wrong, it’s how we “feeeeeeel” that’s important, is that what you’re saying?

no , I feel oto is describing dealing with authoritarian narcissistic jerks on the internet.or real life.

An embarrassment to the human race . . .