Crime

SLO man who threatened Women’s March organizers avoids jail — but must give up his AR-15

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 man pleaded no contest Tuesday to making a Facebook death threat to the organizers of a local vigil as part of a plea deal that requires him to give up his firearms — including an AR-15 — for 10 years.

Daniel Phares faced up to a year in San Luis Obispo County Jail for writing, “I will kill every one of you and make you like it,” on the Facebook page of an August 2017 vigil at Mission Plaza to honor people affected by the violent protests last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to court documents.

But on Tuesday, Phares accepted an offer by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office and pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of making a criminal threat.

In exchange, Phares will not be required to serve additional jail time but must complete 18 months of formal probation with restrictions that include a 10-year firearm prohibition, as well as 10 hours of anger management, and personal letters of apology.

Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle said following the hearing that Phares must write letters of apology to three administrators of the Women’s March San Luis Obispo Facebook page.

Peuvrelle also said Phares must relinquish possession of his three registered firearms, which include an AR-15 rifle, a weapon used in several recent U.S. mass shootings.

Phares’ public defender, Jeremy Cutcher, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Dawn Addis, a Women’s March SLO organizer who first reported the comment to police, said Tuesday on behalf of the group that they are “extremely relieved” that Phares won’t have access to guns for a decade, and said they want to thank the police department, District Attorney’s Office, and representatives from the Victim’s Witness Assistance Center, who Addis said “took this serious every step of the way.”

“Especially in the context this (threat) was made — a peaceful vigil honoring Heather Heyer who herself had been murdered speaking out against white nationalists and white supremacists — we’re proud not only that we had the courage to speak up, but that other people in these times speak up in moments made to cause fear,” Addis said.

Sentencing is formally scheduled for Dec. 11.

Phares, 46, was arrested by San Luis Obispo police a day after an Aug. 16, 2017, vigil held in San Luis Obispo’s Mission Plaza honored people affected by the Charlottesville protests, during which a documented white supremacist drove his car into a crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more.

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, according to Tribune reports.

A police report shows that Phares told investigating 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.”

The case against Phares survived a motion by the defendant to dismiss the case, after Phares’ public defender, Cutcher, argued there was no “specific, targeted, individual victim” and that it’s unclear who Phares’ intended audience was.

Before ruling the case would go to trial, Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen said, “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.’”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comments from Women’s March SLO.

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Matt Fountain: 781-7909, @mattfountain1
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