Sunday, December 23, 2012

New Times columnist's candid Letter to Santa brings more attention to Sarna's case

The New Times anonymous columnist, the Shredder, recently wrote the following for the paper's December 20th issue:

Dear Santa,
There’s a very good chance I haven’t made your nice list this year. In my 89 years on this planet, I’ve yet to make that confounded document, and I don’t feign confusion as to why that is. I am who and what I am, and I’ve never pretended any differently. The world might not like me and you may not see fit to bring me that hula-hoop I’ve been hankering after more decades than I care to count, but I’d like to think that readers understand my purpose in this world, and why that function is, in fact, a necessary one.
In light of my function as truth-teller—a role I cherish and take more seriously than most people might realize—I’d like to rescind my earlier requests for a hula-hoop. This holiday, all I’d like is a little clarity, something to make the task of sifting through society’s refuse and lies a little less onerous, a little less soul-crushing.
I’m not going to address the terrible thing that happened that sparks my desperate desire for the warm blanket of reason. Maybe later. Not now, when heads are hot and hearts are crushed and fingers are flying around faster than reindeer, assigning blame at everyone and everything that sits still for more than a couple seconds. I don’t have the wisdom to sum this up, to put it into perspective. And I can’t pretend to. I’ve rarely felt so unequal to the task set out before me, to summarizing, mocking, illuminating, trivializing, praising, chastising our shared history.
So I’m going to stick with what I know; I can’t handle as much territory as jolly ol’ Saint Nick. If someone’s willing to buy me a pack of flying reindeer, I might be willing to try. But for now, I’ve got one county and some rather harsh words for our DA. Because maybe, fighting for justice in our own backyard is a start.
I seem to remember a popular parable about a good Samaritan, a man who stopped to help a traveler who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. Kinda like the guy driving through SLO on Jan. 20 who was reportedly attacked by a pack of drunk jocks. Whether the traveler in our particular story would have survived such a pummeling—generally, being outnumbered by up to seven or so to one in a fight isn’t considered very good odds—on his own is unclear. It’s unclear, because Austin Sarna happened to be nearby and witnessed what went down. I don’t know how many people would do what Sarna did next—though I certainly hope that if I’m ever being hit and kicked, someone will do the same for me—but Sarna reports confronting the group, demanding that they leave the driver alone. Because he was greatly outnumbered, he’s said, he withdrew and brandished a knife from his bag and repeated that the group needed to leave.
Instead, according to court documents, they attacked him, wrestling him to the ground and pinning him there while at least two of them punched and kicked his face. That’s when Sarna started slashing for his life, and the pack of thugs fled.
Now, Sarna is facing felony charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. And the pack of drunks who by all accounts attacked the guy driving down the street, and then jumped Sarna when he tried to intervene? Well, let’s just say Christmas seems to have come early for them. Whether that’s because they’re local boys—Trevor Tice, the one who ended the evening cut and bleeding, was a three-time CIF finalist wrestler for Atascadero High—or the DA was simply free-basing when the time came to make a decision about how to handle this case is unclear. One member of the pack told police they had all consumed somewhere in the ballpark of 10 shots of vodka apiece. And when you have a pack of violent, drunk—which seems like a bit of an understatement considering the amount of alcohol they had consumed—bullies prowling the streets late at night, it’s just a matter of time before something bad happens. Of course, without Sarna’s intervention, it could have been something very, very bad. To make matters worse, the public defender’s office had to recuse itself from providing an attorney for Sarna on account of a conflict of interest with the victims. Meaning that the public defenders office had already defended at least one of the “victims” in a separate case.
     I can’t seem to remember the part of the parable in which the good Samaritan is sent to jail for helping a guy who was getting roughed up. Maybe I just wasn’t careful enough in my reading? Or maybe our DA saw an easy target in a 22-year-old transient from Vallejo who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, from the driver’s perspective, happened to be at exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Maybe looking into problems potentially pinnable on a pack of local good ol’ boys was just a little too tough for the DA. We wouldn’t want him to run the risk of being unpopular locally, would we? Because that might interfere with his odds of getting nominated to homecoming court.
So who really belongs on the naughty list, based on the official accounts of that night: The guys who got drunk and picked a fight with a stranger before attacking the person who tried to come to the stranger’s aid? Or the guy who put himself in a dangerous situation in defense of a stranger?

 Many thanks to the Shredder for his straightforward opinion on Sarna's case.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

New Times SLO article uncovers the facts regarding Sarna's case

We would like to thank Matt Fountain at New Times in San Luis Obispo for writing the first objective article on Austin Sarna's case which was published this past week, More to the story?, and the follow-up article that was published yesterday, Bail set in SLO stabbing case.

Sarna's family and friends are grateful for the opportunity Fountain's articles have given the public to learn of all the facts about Austin's case, and not just the few details the SLOPD and SLO District Attorney's office want the public to know.  We hope the truth continues to spread.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New Times SLO article on Austin's bail hearing

Bail set in SLO stabbing case

by Matt Fountain
A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge has allowed bail for a 22-year-old man suspected in a late-night stabbing in downtown San Luis Obispo in January 2012.
At his Dec. 13 preliminary hearing, Austin Sarna sat quietly in shackles as Judge John Trice set bail at $500,000 and scheduled a trial-setting conference for Jan. 22.
 Sarna faces felony counts of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon after coming to the aid of a motorist who was losing a lopsided fight, and stabbing 27-year-old Trevor Tice nine times.

According to investigators’ reports, shortly before midnight on Jan. 20, a motorist—who isn’t being publicly identified by New Times—was turning right on Broad and Monterey streets when one of a group of up to seven “college-aged” males kicked his car, prompting him to confront the group.
According to multiple police reports, witnesses say the man was then assaulted by a few in the group, and was losing the fight when Sarna, who witnessed the altercation from Mission Plaza, approached the group to tell them to “leave him alone.”

The group allegedly refused, and Sarna brandished a knife, he would later say, because he was scared. Sarna was immediately pounced on by at least two of the males—one later identified as Tice—who pinned him down on his back while kicking and punching his head and face.
 Sarna—still on the ground—then stabbed Tice eight times in the back, wounds later determined to be “superficial,” but also slashed Tice’s left bicep, severing an artery, which later required surgery. As the group dispersed, Tice was left alone, and later collapsed in the street. The unidentified motorist also left the scene.

Another man received a wound to his head, which didn’t require medical attention.
 Members of the group accompanying Tice later told investigators they were “pretty drunk,” and Tice later said he couldn’t recall the incident.

Sarna was arrested in September by SLOPD officers in his native Vallejo, after DNA found on the knife implicated him in the case.

Foss told New Times he still believes Sarna has a valid self-defense argument, though he has yet to enter a plea. Foss said he was appointed to the case after the county public defender’s office claimed they had conflicts of interest with the alleged victims in the case.
Foss added there had been preliminary talks of a possible plea bargain—possibly removing the attempted murder charge in exchange for a guilty plea to assault with a deadly weapon—but that offer hasn’t formally been made as of press time.

He said his client faces a possible maximum sentence of around 15 years in prison should he be convicted of all charges, due to a prior assault conviction—stemming from a fist-fight—for which he remains on probation. Under the law, he would be required to serve 85 percent of the sentence, Foss explained.
 The case has attracted attention from the community, some of whom claim Sarna isn’t receiving fair treatment, as he’s the only individual from the questionable incident to face any charges.
(originally posted here:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

From Austin's fiancée

When I first met Austin Sarna, I was unimpressed, to say the least. As someone who could be described as reserved and private, I found Austin’s visible tattoos, colorful attire, and vibrant personality to be completely obnoxious. He approached me with a smile and attempted to strike up a conversation and I shut him down. He was too different from me and I couldn’t be bothered to see past that.
Over time, I would see him around during his visits to San Luis Obispo. He’d be out walking his puppy, leaving Starbucks with a traveler box of brewed coffee for whoever he met that would want a cup, socializing with various people downtown, and generally looking happy about life. I became intrigued by his optimistic, radiant attitude, his unsolicited generosity, and his kindness and we eventually became friends.
During our friendship I learned a lot about Austin’s life, about his family and his upbringing, about the city he was born and raised in, his hobbies and interests. I also learned of the hardships he had endured throughout his life. They weren’t so different from my own which was a little shocking for me as I had used mine as a shield to protect myself from others getting too close to me while Austin used his as a way to relate more to other people and be genuinely compassionate.
It was at this time that I began to realize that Austin’s entrance in my life was not by mere happenstance. God sent him to me to show me that I could heal from my past, that I could use my discernment as a way to develop meaningful relationships instead of as a way to shut people out. I discovered a lot about myself: who I was compared to who I thought I was, who I wanted to be, how I wanted my life to be. The most difficult thing I learned about myself was that I hadn’t been the open minded, nonjudgmental, accepting person that I thought I was. With much prejudice, I had initially shamefully judged Austin solely on his appearances and our obvious differences instead of seeing the warm, caring person he undeniable is.
I also soon realized that not only had God purposely placed Austin in my life to help me with healing, growing, learning, and being better, but that Austin’s role in my life would be much more permanent. The guy with the unattractive tattoos and hippy clothes was the man I was meant to spend the rest of my life with. I loved him and he loved me. We began planning our future together and my children and I moved to the Bay Area to start a new life as a family with Austin.
Over the summer, we learned that we were expecting. Austin was going to be a father and he was more loving and wonderful as ever. There were many times during our first trimester that I was so sick I didn’t leave my bed for days. He did his best to make sure I was as comfortable as possible and taken care of while also working a physically exhausting job. I didn’t think I could love him any more than I did at that time.
Austin soon began to seek different career and educational opportunities. He was thinking about fatherhood, our family, and our future. He wanted the best for our family and was making changes to ensure that he could provide the best for us. More than this, he just wanted to be a good dad.
On a Wednesday afternoon in September, our life as we knew it changed. Austin was arrested and transported to San Luis Obispo to face charges for attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon over an incident that happened at the beginning of the year.  I don’t recall ever feeling as brokenhearted as I did the day he was arrested.
After having recently been diagnosed with bronchitis and unable to sleep, Austin headed out with his puppy late one Thursday night in January. While he was out, he witnessed a random act of violence by a group of men. One of the men attacked a car that had pulled up to a stop sign. The driver got out of his car to confront the man, was tackled to the ground, and the group of men began beating him. Austin rushed over to convince the group of men to let the driver go, but instead of being able to de-escalate the situation, he, too, was tackled to the ground and assaulted. One of the men pinned Austin down and was punching him while some of the others gathered around, repeatedly kicking him. As he and the driver were being ruthlessly attacked, Austin was overcome with fear of the two of them being killed by these men. The life-threatening stress prompted Austin’s reaction of doing whatever he needed to do to save his own life and the driver.
I’ve dealt with many emotions since Austin’s arrest in September: outrage that the police and detectives blatantly chose not to disclose all of the facts regarding the incident to the media, anger at the media for reporting the police department’s bias press release instead of questioning the unsound content, disheartenment over the comments left under the online media reports condemning Austin based on his tattoos, guilt because I had once judged Austin the same way, resentment towards the group of men who viciously attacked Austin and the driver of the car and were never arrested, sorrow realizing that Austin could’ve died that night.
While I have been able to get past many of the negative emotions with the help of God, Austin’s love, wisdom, and encouragement, and support from our loved ones, I continue to struggle with grief and heartache. While the men who attacked Austin are able to go on with their lives, waking up in their beds, spending the holidays with their families, wrapping their arms around someone they love, Austin is in jail. His life is on hold. He can’t work to provide for his family and our future. He can’t be here to feel his unborn baby move whenever she hears his voice. He couldn’t celebrate his birthday or Thanksgiving with his loved ones. He can’t hold my hand while telling me how much he loves me. He can’t help decorate the Christmas tree.
While his absence has been painful to bear, preparing to have our baby without him is something I have difficulty coming to terms with on a daily basis. Knowing Austin won’t be here to experience the one event he’s looked forward to the most – the birth of his child – is a constant source of grief and heartache. I ask God for strength, healing, and peace multiple times a day.
In trying to make sense of everything that happened the night of the incident and since Austin’s arrest, I’ve asked every question I can possible think of. Why did this happen? Why that night? Why did Austin have to witness the crimes of these men? Why did he have to be the only person who tried to help? Why didn’t these men just stop? All of these questions have been unanswered except one. As I soon prepare to deal with the reality of Austin not being by my side during labor and delivery and holding his newborn baby, I cannot deny the fact that Austin would’ve never walked away from helping someone in danger or in need. That is the man I know and love and am committed to spending my life with. 
         S. Valentino