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The defense attorney for a Visalia man charged with felonies for allegedly impersonating a San Luis Obispo activist on social media says he has concerns about the origins of the case given the alleged victim’s ties to the county’s district attorney.
David William Platek, 36, faces a maximum of four years and eight months in County Jail for allegedly posting comments under a fake Facebook profile that mimicked that of local activist Kevin P. Rice, who has told The Tribune he is a strong supporter of District Attorney Dan Dow.
“It’s interesting that it appears our district attorney was the starting point in this investigation, and that’s unusual,” defense attorney Patrick Fisher said Thursday.
Platek was in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Thursday morning to be arraigned on two felony charges of identity theft and one misdemeanor charge of impersonating a person through electronic means. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Court records show a warrant for Platek’s arrest was issued Aug. 9 — the day the county District Attorney’s Office filed the charges in San Luis Obispo Superior Court — without a standard letter informing Platek of the charges and his upcoming court date.
“He wasn’t given a court date,” Fisher told Superior Court Judge Dodie Harman. “He was simply given a notice that a warrant was out for his arrest.”
In response, Harman recalled the warrant and ruled that Platek may stay out of jail custody without bail as his case progresses.
The District Attorney’s Office has not released the comments Platek allegedly made under the fake account, but the agency said in a news release that Platek impersonated Rice “to publish false statements that were intended to damage Kevin P. Rice’s reputation.”
The comments in question were allegedly made Aug. 9, 2018, in the comment section of a San Luis Obispo Tribune article about convicted sex offender Brock Turner. The alleged comments are no longer posted in the comment thread.
The investigation by the agency’s Public Integrity Unit took nearly a year, and utilized the Central Coast Cyber Forensic Laboratory that opened March 1, 2017.
Dow wrote in a news release: “Widespread use of social media such as Facebook has increased the amount of identity theft on social media platforms. It is important for the public to know that identity theft anywhere — even in the cyber world of social media — is a crime and will be prosecuted.”
Rice, a libertarian-leaning, pro-off-road vehicle advocate who once ran for San Luis Obispo City Council, is known locally for filing complaints related to the campaign finances of Democratic Party officials and candidates.
In Dow’s latest re-election campaign, Rice filed a complaint to the Fair Political Practices Commission against Dow’s opponent, Judge Mike Cummins.
Rice said by phone Tuesday that he’s been “attacked over and over” by Facebook accounts in The Tribune’s comments section, and that he doesn’t understand what his support for Dow has to do with Platek’s criminal case.
Rice said that he made a complaint directly to the District Attorney’s Office after learning of the fake Facebook account.
But Fisher on Thursday questioned the legitimacy of a case that took a year to investigate and which started with a complaint from someone who “seems to be at least a political ally of our district attorney.”
“I don’t see it. I don’t see a crime based on what I’ve seen so far,” Fisher said, noting that he still has a lot of information to gather.
“There are a couple things that are interesting to me: It’s interesting that it appears our district attorney was the starting point in this investigation, and that’s unusual,” he said. “Usually, it starts with a police department or sheriff’s department, but it looks like not just our District Attorney’s Office and its investigators, but our district attorney himself, was the spark to this whole investigation.”
In response, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran wrote in an email that while most cases are submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for review by other law enforcement agencies, there are numerous occasions when members of the public come directly to their agency with concerns.
“Often these matters are referred to other local agencies for follow-up, but others are investigated by our office depending on the circumstances,” Gran wrote . “Because the crimes alleged involved the internet, we felt this case could best be investigated by a DA Investigator who is assigned to the Central Coast Cyber Forensic Laboratory.”
Platek is due back in court for a pre-preliminary hearing Oct. 8.
This article has been updated to include comments from Jerret Gran.