An unemployed Davis resident has been arrested and charged with vandalizing the Davis Islamic Center last month in what both state and federal prosecutors are calling a hate crime.
Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, 30, was arrested at her residence Tuesday morning following a joint investigation by the Davis Police Department and the FBI, law enforcement officials said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. Tips from the public triggered by surveillance video from the Islamic center helped investigators build the case against Kirk-Coehlo, said Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel, who cited the work of Detective Dan LaFond in conjunction with the FBI.
Kirk-Coehlo, a graduate of UC Berkeley, has been booked into the Yolo County jail for felony vandalism with a hate crime enhancement in relation to the early morning Jan. 22 incident, said Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig.
Kirk-Coehlo was also charged with felony vandalism to a church for the purpose of intimidating worshippers and using fear to prevent them from freely exercising their religious beliefs, Reisig said. The suspect faces up to six years in prison if convicted, and bail has been set at $1 million. Reisig said the amount was based on the severity of the alleged crime.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
The suspect is charged with doing more than $7,000 in damage, smashing six window panes, destroying two bicycles and wrapping strips of bacon on the center’s exterior door handle. Muslims are forbidden to eat or touch pork, which contributed to the hate crime charge.
In response to a Bee inquiry about the bail amount, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven said by email: “I understand that when the (Davis Police Department)detective and FBI special agent went to see Judge (Samuel) McAdam they requested a bail enhancement. They must have presented him with information that in his mind warranted that bail.”
Kirk-Coehlo will be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Yolo County Superior Court. The terms of her bail will likely be discussed then.
Monica Miller, special agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI office, said whatever Kirk-Coehlo’s motives, “political, religious or ideological beliefs are not an excuse to commit hate crimes.” Miller said the FBI is investigating the suspect for federal civil rights violations, and Kirk-Coehlo could be prosecuted on federal charges along with state charges. “We are seeing a rise in these types of crimes,” Miller said.
On Feb. 1, anti-Muslim graffiti was spray-painted on the walls of the Tarbiya Institute, a Roseville mosque. No one has been arrested in relation to that incident.
Some Muslims nationwide have reported being targeted for harassment after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 barring all entry into the U.S. by visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days.
Pytel said Kirk-Coehlo is the only suspect in the Davis mosque vandalism case but noted that the mosque had received threatening hate mail last December.
Muslim leaders in Davis and Sacramento praised law enforcement for catching the suspect, “which is a rare occurrence in these types of crimes,” said Hamza El Nakhal, the former president and board chairman the Davis Islamic Center and a longtime Muslim leader.
The attack struck fear in many of the more than 200 worshippers who regularly attend mosque services, said treasurer Mohamed Kheitzer. He added that the mosque leadership is spending thousands of dollars to improve security and upgrade surveillance cameras.
“There are some who are afraid to come pray, some sisters are afraid to wear their hijabs or work at night,” he said. “Our imam, Amer Shain, explained that he believes in destiny, and these things happened because God wants to wake us up and make us active and open.”
Center President Amr Zedan, a 26-year-old chemical engineering graduate student at UC Davis, invited people from the community to visit. “Our doors are open,” he said. “We’d like people to know more about us.”
Muslim leaders drew strength from the outpouring of support from area residents following the Davis attack.
“Nearly 1,000 people of all races and faiths attended our Friday prayer service in Central Park a week later,” said El Nakhal. “The crime was awful, it was really sickening. After the election, many of us Muslims wondered if we’re all going to get kicked out or be put in prison or sent to camps like the Japanese.”
But when the Davis community came together to support them, “we know we’re not going anywhere no matter what the president says,” he said. “We are Americans, and this is a country of laws.”
El Nakhal says he’s forgiven the suspect. “I have no ill feeling,” he said. “I just want to have a cup of coffee or lunch with her to understand why she did what she did.”