Credit: Sophie Emeny/Upsplash

[Updated: Mar. 23, 2023, 6:55 p.m.]

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday criminally charged two individuals with a hate crime for allegedly stealing two pride flags and burning one in the Santa Ynez Valley last summer.

According to the DA’s March 23 complaint, Avi Stone Williams and Joshua Jerome Eligino were charged with misdemeanor petty theft and violation of civil rights — a hate crime under California law — after allegedly stealing a pride flag from a Santa Ynez family’s home last year between July 18 and 20 and another from St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church in Los Olivos between July 27 and 28, and burning one of the flags. The complaint does not specify which flag was burned but alleges that the suspects knowingly did so to intimidate and interfere with the victims’ “free exercise and enjoyment” of rights — including sexual orientation — protected by state and U.S. constitutions and laws.

After the pride flag was stolen from St. Mark’s in July, Santa Ynez Valley Pride organization put out a statement describing the act as “one of hate.” Shortly after the theft was publicized, community members reported seeing video circulating on Snapchat of what appeared to be the stolen flag being burned.

At the time, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced it had interviewed two suspects who detectives said admitted to previously stealing and filming themselves burning pride flags. The Sheriff’s Office requested the DA charge the suspects with petty theft and committing a hate crime but did not arrest the pair at the time.

According to this Thursday’s statement, “the District Attorney’s Office has met with the victims and members of the community and received input on how they have been impacted by these events,” in accordance with the Victims’ Bill of Rights.

In response to today’s charges, Rev. Randall Day, rector of St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church, thanked the DA’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, and Supervisor Joan Hartmann and her staff for their work in the wake of the incident, as well as the community for its support. Day said that while he realizes that “some may wish the matter had been swept under the rug,” he sees this moment as one “for all of us to get more clear about public accountability.”

As for the two men being charged, Day said that “it is incredibly important for them to understand that there are consequences to damaging actions. Their actions negatively impacted other individuals and whole communities of people, families, children — their neighbors. I hope this is an experience of growth for these young men that helps them realize more constructive paths of living and self-expression in the future.” (Read Day’s full comment’s here.)

Williams and Eligino are set to be arraigned on April 19 in Department 9 in the Santa Maria courthouse.


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