This was a year for the record books in terms of bizarre crimes in west county.
It’s not often that masked protesters take over a local retreat center or that a techie from San Francisco runs amok and ends up running people down on the cliffs of Bodega Bay. But that – and more – is what happened in 2019. Here’s a look back:
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
2019 was bookended by changes at the top of two law enforcement agencies that affect west county. In January, Mark Essick became the new Sonoma County Sheriff, after winning election in November 2018 on a people-first platform of transparency and community connection.
The year ended with the departure of James Conner, a 23-year veteran of the Sebastopol Police Department, who retired several months after a vote of no confidence from the Sebastopol Police Union.
Conner joined the Sebastopol Police Department as a police officer in April 1996 and served in various roles throughout his long career, including school resource officer, field training officer and motorcycle traffic officer. He worked his way up through the ranks to police sergeant, then police lieutenant, and in November 2013 to police captain, where he served as second-in-command to longtime Sebastopol Chief of Police Jeff Weaver. Conner was promoted to chief of police on Nov. 7, 2017. Prior to joining the Sebastopol Police Department, Conner served six years in the United States Air Force and worked in finance.
Conner was replaced at the end of December by Lieutenant Gregory DeVore, who has been with the Sebastopol Police since 2004. The city is starting a search for a permanent replacement, and DeVore plans to toss his hat in the ring.
In other law enforcement news, the county expanded the territory of its mental health crisis team to include Sebastopol and rural west county in 2019. The Mobile Support Team consists of trained behavioral health professionals, who police can call in to accompany them to calls involving people experiencing mental health emergencies.
FOUR DRAMATIC CRIMES IN WEST COUNTY
West county was plagued by the usual array of small-time crimes that it suffers through every year, but three incidents stood out.
Think gender reveal parties are dangerous? Check out the after-party. YouTube is full of gender reveal parties gone wrong. In an incident in Valley Ford this July, it was the party after the gender reveal party that went astray. Three men — Anthony Racines, 19, of Rohnert Park, Calvin Garcia, 23, of Santa Rosa and Eduardo Giovay Lopez-Cabrera, 21, of Santa Rosa — were arrested for shooting two people at the party, one in the head and one in the leg. Lopez-Cabrera, Garcia and Racines’ jury trials for attempted murder and several other related felonies are scheduled to begin on Jan. 10.
Drug-fueled rampage in Bodega Bay. After consuming five doses of LSD, 32-year-old San Francisco software engineer Betai Koffi, who was staying with friends at a rental in Bodega Bay, went on a rampage that ended in a confrontation with Sheriff’s deputies, who shot Koffi multiple times.
During what must have been a very bad trip, Koffi assaulted two of his friends and assaulted a security guard with the stake end of a solar light and stole his car. Then he attempted to run down two women — one walking down the road and another out walking out on the bluffs. When the police showed up, he attempted to ram them with his car. That ended badly for him, with at least three shots through the windshield.
On Oct. 8, Koffi, who is now in a wheelchair, pleaded not guilty to two counts of attempted murder, carjacking and seven other felonies he’s been accused of committee while suffering from drug-induced hallucinations. This case is still ongoing.
Sebastopol rapist identified. In September, the Sebastopol Police Department announced that they had arrested Tirso De Jesus Guzman-Vivar, age 26, on a charge of rape against an elderly female victim. In November, based on DNA and other evidence from the state crime lab, investigators from the Sebastopol Police were able to name Guzman-Vivar as the suspect in an additional rape that took place in June 2019.
In masks and robes. Four masked and robed protestors descended on Westminster Woods on Nov. 15, blocking the entrances and exits with vehicles. Based on flyers found at the scene, deputies determined this incident was a protest against one of the groups attending the camp, a Berkeley-based organization called the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR), a group that, according to the New York Times, has recently found favor among Silicon Valley tech workers, enamored with their curriculum on rational thinking and cognitive bias.
CFAR later issued a statement revealing that it was familiar with two of the suspects: “Two of the individuals involved in this blockade had been asked not to attend our event as a result of prior erratic behavior towards our staff and others. Unfortunately, they instead took actions which disrupted things both for our guests and everyone else present at the camp.”
After a massive law enforcement response that involved SWAT teams, a helicopter and the closing of Bohemian Highway for several hours, the masked protesters were arrested and interviewed. They refused to identify themselves and refused to answer questions. The suspects were later identified through fingerprints as Jack Lasota, 28, Berkeley; Gwen Danielson, 25; Emma Borhanian, 28, Albany; and Alexander Leatham, 24, unknown residence. They have all been charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and several misdemeanors. Their cases remain open.
GUILTY AS CHARGED
Guerneville hate crime. On April 10, defendant Vincent O’Sullivan was sentenced to serve 9 months in jail for a criminal threat constituting a hate crime which O’Sullivan made in May 2018. The defendant was also ordered to stay away from his victim, whom he threatened to kill with a bomb after calling him a fag. O’Sullivan was also barred from possessing any weapons (in addition to the lifetime firearm ban carried by the conviction).
Manslaughter verdict in Cory Vaughn’s death. On July 24, Anthony Ibach, 19, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in jail for stabbing Sebastopol resident Cory Alan Vaughn, 19, in a fight after a party in 2018.
Fratricidal Jenner killer convicted. On July 15, Shaun Gallon was sentenced to three consecutive life terms for the murder of his brother in Forestville, as well as the murder of a young couple — Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and her fiancé Jason S. Allen, 26 — who were camping on a beach north of Jenner in 2004 when Gallon shot them. In exchange for Gallon’s decision to plead guilty to all charges, District Attorney Jill Ravitch agreed to not seek the death penalty.
Verdict in cyclist’s death. On Sept. 18, Healdsburg resident Courtney Michael Rudin, 75, was sentenced to 36 months of supervised probation and 60 days in county jail, after he was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter in the death of Sebastopol cyclist Amy Suyama in 2016. Rudin attempted to pass the cyclists and a slow moving grape truck on Eastside Road, when he was forced by oncoming traffic back into the other lane, where he struck Suyama and her companion, who survived the incident.
Barista assailant sentenced. Sean Seeman, 27, of New York and Alabama and recently transient in Santa Rosa, was sentenced on Dec. 24 to serve 29 years and 6 months to life in state prison after having been convicted of multiple felonies in two separate jury trials earlier this year.
The initial charges stemmed from the defendant’s attack on a barista at a Forestville coffee shop in July 2018. The victim fought back and was eventually assisted by a customer, who the defendant then physically fought and threatened.
The other charges stem from his behavior at the county jail, where he engaged in a series of violent attacks against officers at the jail and also from an attempt, during a court appearance, to grab a deputy’s service weapon. In addition to the life sentence, the defendant was ordered to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life.
A DEATH IN CUSTODY
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick fired Deputy Charles Blount after releasing body cam footage from the attempted arrest of David Glen Ward on Nov. 27. Ward, who was driving the car which he’d reported stolen at gunpoint a few days before, did not survive the interaction. Ward had apparently just retrieved his car, but officers mistook him for the carjacker.
After a long car chase through west county, deputies pulled Ward over and ordered him to keep his hands up numerous times, which he failed to do. After attempting to get Ward to unlock his door, Blount attempted to pull Ward out of his car through the driver’s side window. With Ward’s legs pinned beneath the steering wheel, this was difficult to do, though Blount did manage to get him far enough out of the car to slam his head resoundingly against the outside of the car, before dropping him back into his seat to apply a “carotid restraint,” which cuts off the blood to brain in order to induce unconsciousness.
Ward appears not to have awakened afterward, even as the deputies were standing around his body discussing the fact that they had the wrong guy and wondering why he ran.