At the end of June, a San Luis Obispo resident was arrested for threatening to shoot minorities in his neighborhood. As word of the arrest made its way through the community and across social media, local law enforcement officials say misinformation was also spread about the case. So this week, the San Luis Obispo Police Department held a community forum on hate crimes in the city. Listen above for a conversation between KCBX’s Greta Mart and KCBX’s Tyler Pratt, who was at the meeting. Transcript is below.
GRETA MART: Tyler, fill us in on the incident that sparked this discussion.
TYLER PRATT: At the end of June, 62-year-old Richard Orcutt was arrested and accused of sending threatening letters to property managers and homeowners near his house. Orcutt allegedly wrote on Hallmark cards that he was going to shoot minorities moving into his neighborhood. That’s half the story. The other part is when police arrested Orcutt, they also found a bunch of rifles, shotguns, handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. And once neighbors and residents found out about this, authorities say rumors and wrong information began swirling on sites and apps like Facebook and Nextdoor.
MART: And what are the facts of the arrest?
PRATT: It’s a little confusing, and that’s part of the reason police wanted to hold this meeting. This was a pretty dynamic arrest and surprising to a lot of people. Orcutt was booked on charges of criminal threats and making criminal threats that are hate crimes—three felonies. His bail was set at $500,000, and Orcutt bailed out. He hasn’t been officially charged with anything yet. This is something news outlets, including KCBX, misstated.
MART: Can you explain the difference?
PRATT: A representative from the DA’s office explained this at the meeting. San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Greg Devitt said basically, Orcutt was arrested on those charges, but it’s up to the DA and a judge to actually charge him with crimes. And we should find out if that happens next week, at Orcutt’s court date. Devitt also explained to the public how bail is set, why we have bail, and broke down some complexities of the legal system.
MART: We’ve talked about Orcutt’s arrest and the law, but this meeting was about hate crimes in SLO. Are there concerns about hate crimes from authorities and the public?
PRATT: SLO PD Detective Suzie Walsh gave a presentation unpacking this portion. She said there were five documented hate crimes in SLO in 2018. But several of the people who spoke—and this showed up in social media discussions as well—feel like acts of hate are on the rise in the county. But expressions of hate aren’t always crimes. Many times they are protected under free speech. Walsh says the SLO PD has taken a pretty progressive approach to acts of hate in the city and they are now documenting 'hate expression.' Something she says many jurisdictions don’t currently do. Here’s a clip of Detective Walsh:
“Let’s say someone gets into a car collision and a racial slur is made. The defendant can reasonably argue to say the court of a jury that he or she was simply having a bad day. However if we have that historical documentation of hate expression in the past, we can use that to build a case and help the courts and jury understand the scope of the person we are dealing with and the dynamic in which a hate crime imploded.”
Walsh urges those who believe they may have been a victim of hate expression to call the San Luis Obispo police department, because the department hopes to use this documentation to better understand the community's needs, moving forward.
MART: KCBX News reporter Tyler Pratt attended this week’s San Luis Obispo meeting on hate crimes in the city. Thanks for keeping an eye on this, Tyler.