Crime - Sacto 911

Why former Google employee was set free for hate crime vandalism of Davis mosque

Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, who pleaded guilty to the felony hate crime of vandalizing the Davis Islamic Center in January, was sentenced to five years of probation Friday, meaning she won’t spend more time behind bars.

The young woman was unshackled in the courtroom after Judge Daniel P. Maguire issued his ruling in Yolo Superior Court. She was allowed to go home on the condition she would attend weekly psychiatric counseling and stay away from the Davis mosque. She is also required to stay off social media and is prohibited from owning a firearm.

She had faced a possible maximum sentence of six years. Yolo County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens argued that with anti-Muslim hate crimes on the rise, Kirk-Coehlo had “shattered the safety, security and sanctuary” of the 300-member Islamic Center.

“Her dream is to kill many people, particularly minorities. She talked about blowing up cities,” Couzens told Maguire. “It makes me afraid, and it makes me afraid for the community.”

The former Google employee and legal intern for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office was arrested Feb. 14 after she was caught on video wrapping pork around the handle of one of the mosque’s exterior doors. Muslims are forbidden to eat pork. Kirk-Coehlo, who grew up in Davis, also pleaded guilty to breaking six of the mosque’s windows and slicing the seats of several bicycles.

Kirk-Coehlo conducted online searches of other mosque attacks, including the mass shooting on Jan. 29 in Quebec City that killed six and injured 19. She searched online for information about the suspect in that attack, Alexandre Bissonnette. She also applauded the actions of Dylan Roof, 22, who was sentenced to death in January for murdering nine black parishioners in a Charleston, S.C., church in June 2015.

Davis police Detective Daniel La Fond submitted evidence that she had talked of mass murder and made derogatory remarks about Jews, Mexicans and African Americans. Kirk-Coehlo had searched websites for information on bomb vests and said in a text conversation that while she had not killed anyone yet, “I have dreams and aspirations” and “I would like to kill..many people,” La Fond wrote in his declaration.

Hamza El-Nakhal, former president and CEO of the Davis Islamic Center, said Friday that the idea of Kirk-Coehlo “walking out of this court free is very troubling not only to Muslims, but to African Americans and Latinos I have spoken with. If she’d expressed even some remorse, I’d be much more supportive.”

El-Nakhal added that if he could speak to her directly and resolve her questions about Islam, he would feel better. “She’s almost family; she went to the school with my two daughters, sat in the same seats,” he said. “If she can find a way to be a functioning member of society that would be great.”

Kirk-Coehlo’s attorneys argued that their client had no intention of acting on her violent words.

In a report to the probation department, Woodland attorney Steven Sabbadini called Kirk-Coehlo “a bit of a feminist” who erroneously thought her actions “were an acceptable way of protesting the mistreatment of women” in Islam.

Sabbadini’s co-counsel, David Dratman, argued that his client’s inflammatory statements are a sign of times: “Social media is where we share thoughts we don’t turn into action ... there is zero evidence of any attempts to procure any type of weapons, no bomb vests were found.”

In a hand-written letter to Judge Maguire, Kirk-Coehlo described her conduct as “inappropriate and prejudicial.”

“I have no intention of engaging in violence toward any person,” she added, and said she looks forward to resuming psychiatric counseling with Dr. Joan Gerbasi “to discuss what happened, why, and to make sure that something like this does not happen again.”

Her attorneys noted that the Davis High School graduate had been a girl scout and soccer player who graduated from UC Berkeley with an English degree. Kirk-Coehlo, whose mother is a retired administrative law judge, then worked as a legal intern with the Sacramento County DA. Her next job was as a full-time tech worker on a one-year contract with one of Google’s subcontractors in Mountain View, according to court records.

Kirk-Coehlo’s father, a machinist in Woodland, said she is welcome to live with him if she is released, her attorneys said in their request for probation. In her letter to the judge, Coehlo said “I am very anxious to get my life back on track, to perform new skills and trades and get back in the working world,” she wrote. “I am a person that can learn from my mistakes.”

Kirk-Coehlo’s mother, Nancy Kirk, told the Yolo County Probation Department that her daughter started experiencing mental problems in high school and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She did not improve until she began seeing Dr. Gerbasi. She transferred from community college to UC Berkeley, graduating with honors in 2010.

When she returned to Davis in 2011, her mother said, Dr. Gerbasi’s private practice had closed. She became depressed and isolated.

Dr. Gerbasi told the probation department that Kirk-Coehlo’s “retreat into extreme radical beliefs is ... a defense mechanism against feelings of loneliness, isolation and failure.”

Judge Maguire said Friday he was “cautiously optimistic Kirk-Coehlo could succeed on probation.”

“When she’s not being treated, she comes off the rails, which happened here,” he said. “When she is treated, she can thrive.”

Along with five years of probation and weekly counseling, the judge sentenced Kirk-Coehlo to 120 hours of community service, cultural sensitivity training, and “a complete social media ban for the entire five years” of her probation. He said her computer and home would be subject to search at any time. Kirk-Coehlo has already paid $7,612 to the mosque in restitution.

Maguire acknowledged that “given the climate of the U.S. and the world we live in in 2017, a mosque is a vulnerable place.” But he but noted that Kirk-Coehlo had no previous criminal record except for misdemeanor trespassing. Maguire also recommended restorative justice, a one-time meeting between Kirk-Coehlo and her victims supervised by the district attorney’s office.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini

Related stories from Sacramento Bee