Two Santa Ynez Valley Men Charged with Stealing and Burning Pride Flags
By the edhat staff
Santa Barbara County District Attorney has charged two men in the Santa Ynez Valley for stealing and burning LGBTQ pride flags and sharing it on social media last summer.
Avi Stone Williams, 18, and Joshua Jerome Eligino, 19, have each been charged with two misdemeanor counts of petty theft and one misdemeanor count of a violation of Civil Rights.
According to the District Attorney's complaint, the Civil Rights violation is described as the suspects unlawfully and knowingly defacing, damaging, and destroying personal property "for the purpose of intimidating and interfering with the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured by the Constitution and laws of California and the Constitution and laws of the United States because of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender, and sexual orientation and because the defendant perceived that the victim had such characteristics."
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office released details of their investigation into two thefts of Pride Flags in the Los Olivos area. On July 28, 2022, deputies responded to St. Mark's in the Valley Episcopal Church in Los Olivos to investigate a report of the theft of a pride flag.
Deputies spent several days investigating the report including collecting physical evidence, interviewing victims and witnesses, and tracking down a video of the burning of a pride flag.
As a result of their efforts, deputies identified two young adult suspects in the theft who admitted to an additional theft of a pride flag in the Ballard area at a private residence, as well as the burning of one of the flags in a video they shared on social media.
A violation of Civil Rights is considered a "hate crime" under California law.
"The Sheriff’s Office takes these offenses seriously and the case has been submitted to the District Attorney’s Office requesting charges for 488PC – Petty Theft and 422.6(b) PC – Hate Crimes," the Sheriff's Office press release stated in 2022.
"In accordance with the Victims’ Bill of Rights, the District Attorney’s Office has met with the victims and members of the community and received input on how they have been impacted by these events," the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office states.
Williams and Eligino are set to be arraigned in Department 9 in the Santa Maria courthouse on April 19, 2023.