A man taken into custody last week by Bell Gardens police after they learned he had “threatened” violence against members of the Bell Gardens City Council on his Facebook page, could be released from jail today, according to city officials.
“I was stunned to learn today that the District Attorney declined to file charges against the man who we believe made frightening and explicit threats to the City Council,” City Manager Phil Wagner told EGP Wednesday.
According to Wagner, the individual in question could be released as early as today “when he goes before a judge related to two arrest warrants, which are not related to this case.”
At issue is whether the man, whose Facebook page identified him as Ness G Anthrax but who has since been identified by authorities as 33-year-old Gabriel Morales, actually threatened to harm members of the council or if his comments are protected free speech, according to authorities.
On Monday, out of an abundance of caution and perhaps fear, the city canceled its regularly scheduled council meeting believing that Morales, being held on warrants unrelated to the threats, would be released that day.
He has remained in custody, however, while the County District Attorney reviewes the case to determine if there was sufficient evidence to file charges related to his Facebook postings, which have now been taken down.
A call to the DA was not returned as of press time.
In one of the postings, the man believed to be Morales, aka Ness G Anthrax, dressed in military style attire and what appears to be a gas mask and carrying a rifle, assumes a military-like stance. In another, a mouse in a trap, presumably dead, sits atop a campaign sign supporting Mayor Daniel Crespo, Councilwoman Priscilla Flores, and challenger, teacher Jose Medina; a big “X” crosses out the names on the sign. The accompanying profanity laced posting written in Spanish, says, “See what b.g. is…enemy number one of the councilmember “lacras.”
The postings are filled with references to political corruption, drug cartels, anti-government rhetoric and terrorist style references.
Crespo, who first brought the Facebook postings to the attention of Bell Gardens police and administration after “receiving a tip” was singled out in one of the more offensive postings that said the councilman’s movements are being monitored by a “ghost”. A picture of Crespo standing in front of a U.S. flag accompanies the post.
Crespo, who in addition to being a council member is a county probation officer, told EGP Wednesday he believes “what this man posted to Facebook crosses the line into an area of criminal threats. He posted pictures of our business cards, city hall, our homes and made derogatory and threatening comments along with pictures of himself with various handguns and assault weapons. Also posted were pictures of dead bodies that appeared to have been shot.
“I don’t know this person and when you see 25 to 30 pictures on his Facebook page that depict violence, how would anyone not be concerned for themselves, their family and the employees of our city,” he said.
“I believe in freedom of speech but I believe that he [Morales] crossed that line,” Flores told EGP via email Tuesday. “…Posting all those weapons and people about to get shot behind the head is a little too much,” said Flores, who said she contacted the police department “because these types of threats should not be taken lightly.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez says she believes the suspect’s posting are related to the city’s recent election and called the comments “hate filled” and “angry.”
Rodriguez noted that Morales expressed support for Councilman Sergio Infanzon who lost his bid for another term on the council. Rodriguez, Crespo, and Flores supported another candidate to replace Infanzon.
“He tagged him [Infanzon], he liked him,” Rodriguez says she was told about the postings, though adding she personally has little experience with the social media outlet.
Rodriguez had harsh words for Infanzon who she believes was aware of the postings but failed to notify officials or his fellow council members about them.
“I am really disappointed! How can you not take these things seriously when we have seen so many of these bad things happen in other areas,” she said. “OK, be angry about the campaign, I can understand that, but how do you not say something when you see this,” she said.
Neither Crespo nor Flores said they believe Infanzon is linked in anyway to the incident, though Flores said she knows the two know each other.
Infazon did not respond directly to EGP’s calls or email seeking comment, but in a letter addressed to Bell Gardens residents emailed to EGP at press time on Wednesday, Infanzon said he wants to let residents know he is “working diligently” to ensure “the safety of our residents, staff, and fellow members of the city council.”
He said he will reserve judgment until the investigation is complete: “However, to suggest that I may have anything to do with the latest developments in the City is untrue and only being used to further the self-serving agendas of my political opposition in the city.”
With Morales possibly on the verge of being released from jail today, Crespo, Flores and Rodriguez all say they are worried that he may be mentally “unbalanced”, and something has to be done to find out where his anger is coming from.
“I hope this individual gets some therapy because no one on this city council has done anything to hurt this individual. I am not sure where this hatred toward government or the city council is coming from,” said Flores.
Crespo wants to know if the man feels he was treated badly by someone in the city,
Rodriguez told EGP she is worried that even if Morales does nothing more, his comments might have fueled anger in others. “They might be inspired by the intense hatred to act out, like an animal,” she said.
“A lot of people saw what he posted and said nothing, that really disappoints me,” added Rodriguez. “How do you see this and say nothing? I want to tell parents that they better look to see what their children are posting and if they seem something like this they have to put a stop to it.”
All three council members said they will not go into hiding. While they are worried what could happen to them, they are more concerned about their families, the public and Bell Gardens employees.
“… of course I am scared,” said Flores. “I feel like I have to be watching out not only for myself but also for my family. My son goes walking to the store all the time and my father takes my daughter to the park and I am now starting to question if this is safe. But I also do not want to feel like a prisoner in my own community,” she added.
In the meantime, the city manager told EGP that he and Police Chief Robert Barnes have met to discuss “the steps that will be taken to ensure the safety of the City Council, our employees and city facilities.
“Everything necessary will be done to protect those we believe were threatened including the general public who utilize our facilities.”
Editor’s Note: This article was update to correct interpretation of one of the Facebook posts.