Just two days after a California Rabbi won a lawsuit involving the vandalism of his synagogue, the synagogue was vandalized once again.
During the night of Saturday, July 13, 2019, vandals threw paint and bricks at the synagogue. Fortunately, no one was injured. Police are investigating as a potential hate crime.
This isn’t the first case of violence against HDC.
In October 2016, the Hebrew Discovery Center synagogue in Los Angeles, California was the victim of vandalism committed by a group of activists who oppose one of the synagogue’s religious rituals. The head rabbi, Rabbi Netanel Louie, reported the vandalism to the police and showed the officers the damage the group of vandals did to the property. The police investigated the incident, some of which was caught on video, and two people were charged with trespass, theft, and vandalism. Now here’s where the story takes an outrageous turn.
One of the accused vandals, Olena Stephens, then went back and sued the Rabbi for reporting her to the police. That’s when California judge Richard Walmark announced his decision, without explanation, ordering the Rabbi, who was the victim of the vandalism, to pay over $6000 to Stephens.
Essentially, the victim was ordered to pay the accused!
This decision was a manifest miscarriage of justice. No one should be penalized for making a good faith report of a crime to the police.
In fact, according to California law, making a police report is generally protected activity because the state wants to encourage people to freely communicate with law enforcement. Even if the person making a police report was mistaken about what he or she saw, that is not enough to sue. Only people who maliciously lie to the police can be brought to court based on their communication with law enforcement. This is a very high standard, and it was not met here.
Judge Walmark ignored the mountain of evidence supporting Rabbi Louie’s good faith belief that Stephens was a part of the group who vandalized his synagogue. Stephens was caught at the scene of the crime, at the back of the synagogue, after midnight, around the same time as the vandalism.
Fortunately, Judge Michael Harwin came to a fair conclusion on appeal. The Rabbi was within his rights to call the police, and he does not owe Stephens any damages.
Crimes against Jewish individuals or organizations constitute 58% of religiously-motivated crimes in this country, according to FBI statistics. Victims of any crime, and especially religiously-motivated crimes, should feel that they are safe when they are talking with law enforcement. Ordering a victim to pay thousands of dollars to his alleged assailant adds an unconscionable insult to injury.
The reversal of that earlier outrageous decision is a victory, not just for Rabbi Louie, but for the rule of law itself.
“The judge’s decision is just and protects Rabbi Louie from being penalized for simply reporting a crime that he witnessed,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel to First Liberty. “The Rabbi made a good faith report to the police about a crime he saw taking place on his property. We are grateful for this decision. We will continue to assist Rabbi Louie as police investigate the most recent vandalism against his synagogue.”
For Immediate Release: 7.16.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, firstname.lastname@example.org
California Judge Reverses Fine Imposed Against Jewish Rabbi for Reporting Vandalism Against Synagogue to Police
Synagogue damaged again over weekend by vandals
Van Nuys, CA—A California judge reversed an earlier decision to fine Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Netanel Louie over six thousand dollars for reporting the vandalism of his synagogue to the police. In a separate incident this past Saturday evening, vandals threw paint and bricks at the synagogue.
“The judge’s decision is just and protects Rabbi Louie from being penalized for simply reporting a crime that he witnessed,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel to First Liberty. “The Rabbi made a good faith report to police about a crime he saw taking place on his property. We are grateful for this decision. We will continue to assist Rabbi Louie as police investigate the most recent vandalism against his synagogue.”
In October of 2016, a band of activists stormed onto the Hebrew Discovery Center synagogue, after the synagogue performed an ancient religious ceremony involving the kosher and humane killing of a chicken. The vandals trespassed, stole electronics, and caused thousands of dollars in damage to the property. The Rabbi witnessed the vandalism, catching some of the disturbance on video, and reported the incident to the police. One person in the group was charged with vandalism, theft, and trespass. The case was eventually dismissed, because prosecutors did not have enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Afterward, the activist brought a case against the Rabbi for reporting her to the police and a California judge awarded her over $6,000. Fortunately, the decision was reversed on appeal. The Rabbi was well within his rights to call the police on the suspected vandal.
Police are investigating the most recent vandalism, which took place Saturday evening, as a potential hate crime.
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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
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A PDF version of this news release is available here.