By Donald H. Harrison

Another local hate-crime shooting was likely prevented the week after a gunman killed one person and wounded three others at Chabad of Poway on April 27, 2019, according to a San Diego County deputy district attorney.

Leonard Trinh, who heads the hate-crimes prosecution unit of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, said a man bringing gun parts to his workplace alarmed co-workers when he praised John Earnest, the alleged Chabad of Poway shooter, as a “saint.”

Trinh made the statements about 1 hour, 15 minutes into an online presentation Nov. 12 hosted by the San Diego County Law Library (seen above).

Coupled with the fact that the co-workers knew that the man, whom Trinh did not identify by name on the video, was going to be fired that same day, the co-workers decided to telephone authorities with their concerns.

A gun-violence restraining order later was obtained by law enforcement officers, who found six AR-15s and two AK-47s at the man’s home. A search of his computer and cell phone found videos of women being assaulted, a Black woman being confronted with a Nazi flag, and a video of two Jewish people being killed.

“He could have done some substantial damage” if his co-workers hadn’t called police after seeing all those red flags, according to Trinh.

Asked by San Diego Jewish World on Thursday what the disposition of that case was, Trinh said the man pleaded guilty to illegal possession and manufacture of firearms and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Even as the man may have been inspired by the Chabad of Poway shooter, so too do other haters study the actions of other shooters and read their online posts.

A growing concern, according to Trinh, is the dogma within the white-supremacist community that Jewish people and institutions, including HIAS, are involved in a conspiracy to replace white people with immigrants from nonwhite nations.

Six months before the Poway shooting, 11 people were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The shooter, Robert Bowers, posted online before his attack: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Trinh and District Attorney Summer Stephan on video delineated the difference between hate crimes and hate incidents.

A hate crime, according to Stephan, is one that is “motivated by one of the protected categories: race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.”

Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh as seen in recent webinar on hate crimes. Image via

Hate crimes impact not only the individual victims but also people who are members of the same category, she said.

For example, the murder of Lori Gilbert Kaye at the Chabad of Poway and the wounding of three other people in the congregation affected not only them but also terrorized the Jewish community.

A hate incident involves speech or the display of symbols that indicate the person’s contempt and disdain for members of a protected category, but don’t descend to the level of being an actual crime.

For example, Trinh said, incidents this year included one in which a man wore a Ku Klux Klan hood at a supermarket; a man and woman wore masks featuring swastikas at another supermarket; and a car was seen on a freeway with its entire rear window covered with a swastika flag.

Although provocative, these acts are protected the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, Trinh said.

However, he added, it’s important to take notice of such acts and to report them to authorities in the event that the same person commits a crime such as an assault, or worse, on a member of a protected class.

In proving that the assault was a hate crime, authorities can point to the person’s previous displays of bias as indicators that the subsequent crime was motivated by hate.

Trinh said hate incidents tend to occur in clusters in specific areas – such as the Klan hood and swastikas in Santee, and anti-Black incidents at San Diego State University — and at certain times of the year.

For example, he said, hate incidents and crimes tend to occur in the two weeks following an election regardless of what party or candidate won. Additionally, he said, they tend to occur more often in the summer when people are outside and may have more interactions with people they don’t like.

Trinh said statistics show that the overwhelming number of hate crimes motivated by race are against Black males; while those motivated by sexual orientation are against gay men; those motivated by gender identity are against transgender women, and those motivated by religion are against Jews.

Donald H. Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. A version of this report originally appeared on San Diego Jewish World, a member of the San Diego Online News Association.

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