A 24-year-old La Jolla man who was wearing a Jesus costume when he allegedly sucker-punched a San Diego police officer at a Gaslamp District Halloween street festival was charged Thursday with battery of a peace officer and resisting arrest.
Eric Van Vleet, who was arrested in Idaho’s Cassia County less than a week after the alleged Nov. 1 attack and extradited to San Diego, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.
Deputy District Attorney Will Hopkins said the unnamed officer was breaking up a fight amid a crowd of people outside the Atomic bar about 1 a.m. when Van Vleet allegedly yelled, “(Expletive) the police” and punched the lawman in the side of the head.
Van Vleet — who was dressed as Jesus Christ with devil horns — then walked away from the ruckus, disappearing into a crowd and getting into an Uber vehicle, according to the prosecutor.
He traveled to Idaho, where he is the CEO of two companies, according to Hopkins.
Defense attorney Marc S. Kohnen said Van Vleet is a majority partner in his companies, which are involved in advertising for medical products.
The officer, a three-year member of the San Diego Police Department, was taken to a hospital for treatment of a roughly inch-long laceration and other trauma. The officer missed a week of work with post-concussion symptoms, according to Hopkins.
Kohnen emphasized that his client has no criminal record and disagreed with San Diego County Superior Court Judge Jay Bloom’s decision to set bail at $800,000.
The judge cited Van Vleet’s travel to Idaho as part of the reason for the high bail, in addition to his apparent financial resources.
Along with his “business ties” to the Idaho companies, Hopkins said investigators found a vehicle valued at around $100,000 at his home.
According to the prosecution, surveillance footage and bar tabs helped investigators identify Van Vleet as the suspect.
Kohnen countered that it’s not clear whether Van Vleet or someone else in the crowd assaulted the officer, calling it a “chaotic scene” in which police arrested multiple people.
Van Vleet pleaded not guilty and is due back in court next Tuesday for a bail review hearing.
— City News Service