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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When using the comment box here at the bottom of the page your commentary will appear at the top, please make sure that what you type in the comment box is opinion about the article, The top comment should be relevant to the topic of the story. Reply as you will by using the REPLY button next to each comment. Try to be succinct as replies only go nine deep, Avoid replying to your own comment or reply (talking to yourself) excessively. sorry willy

I’m trying my best.

Wait till you get old.

Actually it wasn’t the SWAT team. It was sheriff’s detectives who were conducting the investigation that confronted him and shot him when he refused to drop the knife.

I’d also love to hear about the connection between the “victim” and the perpetrators of the “crime.” Is there a connection?

WOW! 5 thumbs up & 5 down as of this posting? Apparently we have a group following that prefers NOT to seek information that might lead to the truth regardless of who side it favors.

I would honestly like to know if the victim was known to these people. Why her? How did they know she was there?

Have you not asked yourself that question or is just easier and more PC to believe it is what the media says it is, case closed?

Two of the alleged cross burners are 20 and she is 19. It’s possible that they could have been class mates if either of the 20 year old’s lived in AG and went to school there.

I think the fact that readers here considered that obvious question worthy of a thumbs-down is what is surprising. One should never fear the seeking the truth; the truth stands on its own.

r0y, in case you are not aware, there are posters who use multiple posting names and identities so as to make it appear that their opinion carries more weight (number of people voicing the same opinion) than just one person’s opinion.

There is only one thing that carries less weight and is worth less than anonymous strawman or attack the messenger posts and that is the stupid like/dislike buttons.Worthless for consideration or argument and without any substance. I ignore them.


Who else was arrested? Says here “three men and one woman” but only gives one man’s name.

Guess we’ll have to wait for the follow up story.

A very interesting connection in relation to the shooting of his father and the dog. I remember when that happened and it was on that very piece of property where the cross was burned.

This report fails to recognize that fact.


Side Show Bob, The torpedo headed guy said they were burning a cross in Pop’s honor, ON THAT PROPERTY WHERE HE DIED, SO…..The young black girl WAS NOT targeted, .. I think you just closed the case.

Because skin headed, neck tatted people burning stolen crosses “in Pop’s honor” is normal in AG?

Imagine this happening next to your house, junior detective.

His dad died because he was being arrested for murdering Rick Maloney April 8th 1994 with his minor son. I knew him and his dad when I was a kid. And the victim. The minor son shot the victim first and Ricky Kahn killed him. Over drugs.

I thought that the father Rick had shot the victim twice. Rick and Jason had been dropped off at the mobile home and had to walk to a little store on the Mesa to call and get a ride home. Not a planned event.

They were “friends” or dope buddies….tried to rob him and he laughed,,,minor son then shot him in the face, freaked out and couldn’t finish the job because apparently it was not a pretty scene in the back room of that mobil home!! and got a ride outta there. Then came to our house (I was 9) Jason shaved his head, cause people were looking for him while his dad ransacked our garage…my dad was gravely ill (seven months before losing his battle with cancer) and at the time and unable to defend himself, his children, or his home….I don’t recall the shooting being planned, but you don’t show up packing a gun to rob somebody without having other intentions if things go awry. I was so young at the time, but you can believe my jaw dropped when I saw this face on the news. My dad grew up with Rick and unfortunately was a part of “that” crowd

Are you serious? If his father was killed on that property, then that changes everything. It’s possible that they didn’t even know that a black teenager lived in that house. Initially, I wondered what the odds would be that they would burn a cross next to a house where this girl just so happened to live but if it also so happens that the father was killed there, what the ??? Are you pulling everyone’s leg?

I’ll say that I don’t remember the name of the man that was shot and killed on that property but I remember that happening on that parcel of land. I lived not too far from that location and traveled by that spot 4 or 5 times a day for 10-15 years. I remember the event taking place and thought it odd that SO was the agency involved being that it is AG’s jurisdiction. It’s got to be the same event as that’s a very unique parcel where the building setback was/is extreme and there’s lots of open yard space. It’s the only spot like that on South Elm – South of Grand Ave.

I’ll just add, I went by the scene a moment ago. I’m very confident it’s the spot from ’94. I actually performed some work on that property a number of years ago for the owner that lives in AG. That was back in ’97 or ’98.

KSBY has a reporter at the scene now.

Perhaps one of the CCN Reporters can look up the old records on the incident to confirm it’s location. I could only find Rick Kahn’s Obit. I don’t have those mad skillz of a reporter!

now that is community journalism thank you.

The 3 local newzzzzzzz ch. aren’t mentioning the Kahn stmt. ’bout his father dying @ the cross-burning

Yes, the house was set way back from the street and had shade trees in the front yard. It was white with a turquoise trim.

Is it near the park?

North of the park.

I am generally not a fan of hate crime laws, however I think this is a case where there is a need for them. Usually the underlying crime is sufficient. If you murder someone, they aren’t deader because you hated them. And the punishment is severe enough.

But here I don’t think the underlying crime caries a sufficiently severe punishment. If I say take a wooden chair, place it in a neighbors drive way, douse it with gas and light it, I probably committed some crime, but, as long as I didn’t harm anything, I doubt the punishment would be very much.

If the allegations are true, this case would warrant severe punishment and the only way to achieve that maybe by using the hate crime laws.

Be careful, you are going to give the “hate” criminals some ideas. They might try obscuring their crimes with harmless looking camouflage. How will the police characterize them as “hate crimes” then?

I don’t like to convict anyone before the system does it work. But even without this crime this guy is a low life piece of work. He needs to put away, he’s a danger to everyone.

I must admit that I thought that this crime was probably a bunch of kids, I’m pretty shocked that we have adults like this living in our beautiful little community. My heart goes out to the family that he terrorized, they must be going through h*ll. This isn’t the type of thing that one gets over very easily.

I am in TOTAL agreement with you on this one, TypoQ…shocking as that may be! ; )


Someone asked why it took four months; actual police work does not always move quickly, especially when the authorities want to make sure that they have all the evidence they need to prosecute. I am in no way trying to excuse the SLO PD for how long they took in arresting Ryan Mason for the attack he participated in, but in the Arroyo Grande case here, remember that the FBI was involved and they have policies and procedures in place that they follow to the letter. If I remember correctly also, the mayor definitely “stepped into it” when he suggested that this was a prank, but I seem to remember that the Police Chief did come out and announce that he was moving forward with the assumption that this was a “hate crime” and would seek full prosecution, and I think it was him that called in the FBI. Regardless, it is good to see that arrests have been made and I hope that the alleged participants are fully prosecuted.

thanks for clarifying, bob. I forgot about the multi-agency involvement. I agree; it’s good to see some arrests.