Authorities have arrested two suspects for an alleged hate crime assault of a gay teen at El Verano Elementary School in Sonoma last month. Police arrested Francisco Emeliano Serna, 19, of Santa Rosa today on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, participating in a criminal street gang and a violation of the hate crime statute, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. He was booked into Sonoma County Jail under $475,000 bail. On Friday police arrested a 17-year-old boy in connection with the attack for the same allegations.
He was booked into juvenile hall under no bail, Sonoma police Lt. Brett Sackett said. Deputies from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which provides police services to Sonoma, responded to a report of a gang fight at the school on Riverside Drive around 10:45 p.m. on March 29, Sackett said. Two youths who were in a parking lot of the school when deputies arrived said when they gathered there to drink and smoke marijuana, some other youths were already there, Sackett said. After drinking and smoking together, an 18-year-old male showed up to join his friends, Sackett said. As he walked through campus looking for them, he was jumped by a group of suspected gang members, Sackett said.
Two of the assault victim’s friends came to his aid, and the victim escaped and ran to a nearby residence. The 18-year-old’s friends also were assaulted and robbed of their phones and wallets. They declined medical attention, and could provide only limited information about the suspects. Deputies searched the area but did not locate the suspects, Sackett said. When the 18-year-old assault victim returned to the campus, he told deputies he had been attacked by one of the suspected gang members, and the other suspected gang members joined in, Sackett said.
The 18-year-old victim told investigators his cell phone and wallet were taken during the attack. During an interview, deputies learned the 18-year-old victim is gay, but the victims and witnesses did not suggest his sexual orientation was the motivating factor in the assault, Sackett said. Some of the victims and witnesses reportedly heard the suspects yell gang terms, Sackett said. The following day, two of the gay victim’s friends and a witness went to the sheriff’s Sonoma Valley substation and suggested the 18-year-old’s sexual orientation might have led to the attack, Sackett said.
During interviews the following week, the sheriff’s office’s violent crimes investigations unit identified one of the primary suspects, and determined the suspects did make sexually derogatory statements before and during the assault of the 18-year-old victim, Sackett said. Investigators now believe the assault was motivated in part by the sexual orientation of the 18-year-old victim. When the 17-year-old suspect was arrested Friday, he was in possession of the 18-year-old’s cell phone, Sackett said. Sheriff’s detectives are identifying other suspects and anyone with information is asked to call (707) 565-2185.
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