The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office has filed a misdemeanor disturbing-the-peace charge against an Isla Vista landlord following an anti-gay, expletive-filled tirade caught on video.
The cellphone video shows property owner James Gelb shouting homophobic slurs at Ethan Bertrand, the gay board president of the Isla Vista Community Services District.
The confrontation occurred the night of Nov. 7 in the 500 block of State Street.
Gelb “allegedly used offensive language which was likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction,” the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement announcing the charge.
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According to the California Penal Code, Gelb faces up to 90 days in County Jail, a fine of up to $400, or both, if convicted.
The case is set for arraignment on Dec. 4 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
In the video, Gelb refers to Bertrand as a “fag” more than a dozen times, and makes derogatory references to a variety of sexual acts while continuously shouting “F--- you!”
Early in the video, the two men appear to be talking about Gelb’s property holdings, a Del Playa Drive portfolio that is on the market for $79 million.
Part of the exchange is unintelligible, but Gelb can be heard stating that “it is none of your f---ing business,” followed by “escrow hasn’t closed yet.”
After Bertrand says he’s “looking forward to seeing that,” Gelb asks, “Who the f--- do you think you are? What’s your net worth, you little f-----? What are you worth? Who do you think you are?”
Glancing back at the camera, Bertrand replies, “I work for the people of Isla Vista.”
After Bertrand tells Gelb that he treats his residents “very poorly,” Gelb explodes with a loud “F--- you!”
At that point, the confrontation escalates as Gelb begins shouting a string of derogatory references about Bertrand’s sexual orientation.
“You walk like a f---ing fag and I know you’re a fag,” Gelb tells him.
Bertrand angrily responds, “Hey, I’m very proud to be gay.”
When a woman in front of the Church of Scientology of Santa Barbara, at 524 State St., tells Gelb to “knock it off,” he responds, “I don’t care if you are Scientologists or what the hell you are. ... He has no business telling me how to run my business.”
He then asks them, “What do you think about homosexuals? What do the Scientologists think about fags who (expletive) each other?”
According to Mollie Culver, a Democratic Party strategist who emailed the video to Noozhawk, it was taken by a friend of Bertrand whom she declined to identify. Throughout the video, Bertrand remains calm and even tells Gelb to “have a good night, Mr. Gelb.”
Despite the fire of homophobic slurs, Police Sgt. Joshua Morton said it is not being investigated as a hate crime because “there has to be another crime committed,” for motivation to be considered an act of hate.
Gelb emailed a statement to Noozhawk explaining his actions. He alleged that Bertrand called him a “pedophile” and a “felon” before the camera started recording.
“To me, those are fighting words,” he wrote.
In his statement, Gelb alleges that he has been “the daily target of UCSB students’ condescension, pranks and mocking over the years. They routinely hurl obscenities at me, trying to spark a reaction with their cell phones ready.”
He refers to a “private Facebook page” that he says bullies him and causes him emotional distress.
“Recently, I have experienced escalations of this bullying,” he said. “Ethan took this one too far. I was baited and trapped. I regret taking the bait.”
Gelb’s statement also says that, as a child, he was clinically diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication.
“This means that sometimes I say things without any social filter,” he wrote. “I have struggled with its affliction throughout my entire life. It has caused me and my loved ones great pain.”
In his statement, Gelb says that his only brother was gay and died of AIDS in 1994 after a 22-year battle. He said he maintains a positive relationship with his late brother’s partner, and that he has long supported LGBT causes.
Bertrand released a statement of his own.
“Mr. Gelb’s actions caused me to fear for my personal safety, leaving me traumatized for the rest of the evening,” he said. “His disgusting behavior shows that in 2017, LGBTQ people in our community can still face harassment, discrimination and the threat of violence.
“I hope that Mr. Gelb can heal from the trauma that has caused him to treat people this way, but I also demand that he be held accountable for this unconscionable attack on the LGBTQ community.”