Crime

SLO man who allegedly threatened to kill organizers of anti-racism vigil headed to trial

Daniel Phares, right, pleaded no contest Oct. 30 to a misdemeanor charge of making a criminal threat. He’s pictured here at his August 2018 arraignment with public defender Jeremy Cutcher.
Daniel Phares, right, pleaded no contest Oct. 30 to a misdemeanor charge of making a criminal threat. He’s pictured here at his August 2018 arraignment with public defender Jeremy Cutcher. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge on Thursday struck down an attempt to dismiss the criminal case against a man accused of making death threats on the Facebook page for organizers of a local anti-racism rally and vigil last August.

Daniel Joshua Phares posted in a comment thread on the Facebook page for the Outshine the Darkness rally, stating in a public comment thread: “I’m going to kill you and you’re going to like it,” according to court documents.

He later deleted the comment.

Phares, 46, has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges of making criminal threats and making annoying communications. If convicted of both, he faces a maximum of one year in County Jail.

Phares was arrested the day after an Aug. 16 vigil held in San Luis Obispo’s Mission Plaza honoring people affected by violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier that month, where a documented white supremacist drove his car into a crowd and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured dozens more.

The vigil was organized and hosted by the Democrats of San Luis Obispo and the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo.

An estimated 1,000 people gathered Wednesday, August 16, 2017, at San Luis Obispo’s Mission Plaza for a vigil to support victims of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The comment was reported to police by Dawn Addis, one of a handful of organizers of the San Luis Obispo Women’s March.

A search of a Facebook page appearing to belong to Phares showed a years-long history of racist and anti-Islamic posts, in addition to strong support for veganism and environmental causes.

In a motion filed with the court May 17, Phares’ public defender, Jeremy Crutcher, asked Judge Craig van Rooyen to dismiss the case in the interest of justice.

In his request, Crutcher wrote that San Luis Obispo police met Phares at his home Aug. 18 to question him about the post. After initially denying he wrote it, Phares admitted he did so “out of frustration with racists.”

According to the police report, Phares told officers, “You just get annoyed and you post something and then you’re like, man, I shouldn’t have posted that. That’s why I deleted it, actually.”

Phares also told police he didn’t intend to hurt anyone.

Crutcher wrote that the facts in the case don’t support the charges, namely that there was no “specific, targeted, individual victim” and that it’s unclear who his intended audience was.

“Without the comment being addressed to a specific individual, any viewer of the page could read the post and potentially claim themselves victims,” Crutcher wrote.

Crutcher also wrote that Phares and the alleged victims in the case — the organizers of the event — were never in physical contact, and that there’s no evidence Phares knew their names, faces or addresses. He said it wasn’t until the organizers reviewed comments on the events’ Facebook page the next day that they found Phares’ comment.

“It was not until the alleged victims combed through Mr. Phares’ Facebook page and spoke with police that they stated they were concerned for their safety,” Crutcher wrote. “The police report seems to indicate the alleged victims placed themselves in fear after looking for postings they found objectionable.”

Calling the case against Phares “unusual,” van Rooyen told Crutcher on Thursday that there was an inference in Phares’ comment that it was directed to the organizers and attendees of the vigil.

“It’s one thing to call people names, which is something we all have to put up with in this society. It’s another to say, ‘I’m going to kill you,’” van Rooyen said before denying the motion.

Phares is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 24.

Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1
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