A Contra Costa County jury this week convicted a San Ramon man on a majority of counts after making threats of gun violence against State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) earlier this year in response to a vaccination bill introduced by the legislator.
Erik Triana, 51, was found guilty on seven of eight felony charges, including threatening the life of Wiener in a message submitted through the senator's website in January, according to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office.
"I'm deeply grateful to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office, California Highway Patrol, and the court system for taking this death threat -- and my personal safety -- seriously," Wiener said in a statement on Thursday.
Triana sent a threat to Wiener through the "contact me" portal on the senator's website, which said, 'Vax my kids without my permission and expect a visit from me and my rifle,'" prosecutors said in a press release Thursday.
They added that Triana, a San Ramon father of three, had listed his address as the Moscone Center in San Francisco and signed the message "Amendment, Second."
Wiener represents California's Senate District 11 in San Mateo and San Francisco counties. The Moscone Center is named after George Moscone, the former San Francisco mayor who was assassinated alongside Harvey Milk at San Francisco City Hall in 1978.
Prosecutors said that Wiener, who lives in San Francisco, made a note of this connection when he took the stand on Sept. 6, saying that the reference to Moscone and Milk in a gun violence threat made it stand out to other threats received by his office.
"While free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy and a constitutionally protected right, there is a clear line between political discourse and threats of violence," said deputy district attorney Stephanie Kang, who prosecuted the case. "The jury's verdict in this case highlights the fact that threats to seriously harm or kill a public servant because of disagreement with their policies is not protected speech and will not be tolerated."
Public defender Ian McGrattan, who represented Triana, said that his client had not been seeking to make an actual threat with the message, and that Triana hadn't expected Wiener to ever lay eyes on the message.
"Mr. Triana is not a violent person," McGrattan said of his client, who had pleaded not guilty in the case. "He would never hurt anybody. He did not intend for this statement to be taken as a threat."
Eight felony charges were initially filed against Triana on April 25. On Wednesday, he was found guilty on seven of those counts: one count of threatening Wiener's life, two counts of possession of assault weapons, two counts for "ghost gun" manufacturing and two counts of having a concealed firearm in a vehicle.
The jury acquitted Triana on a charge of criminal threat or great bodily injury to Wiener.
"I am obviously happy that he was acquitted of that one charge," McGrattan said. "I think it's a reflection of the fact that the jury realized this simply wasn't a credible threat based on the wording and based on his lack of intention to threaten anybody."
Kang said that Triana's last message to Wiener was on Jan. 22, shortly after the introduction of Senate Bill 866, which proposed making COVID-19 vaccines available to minors 15 years old or older without their guardians' permission.
Wiener ultimately pulled SB 866 from consideration last month, in part citing harassment he and supporters faced in the wake of the bill's introduction while acknowledging the proposed legislation was several votes short of what would be needed to pass the State Assembly.
"Sadly, months of harassment and misinformation -- including death threats against me and teen advocates -- by a small but highly vocal and organized minority of anti-vaxxers have taken their toll," Wiener said at the time. "The health of young people will suffer as a result. SB 866 did nothing more than empower young people to protect their own health, even if their parents have been brain-washed by anti-vax propaganda or are abusive or neglectful."
The DA's office reported that police were able to trace the Jan. 22 message back to a computer at Triana's workplace in Pleasanton. Triana's home and car were searched under a warrant in March, in which police found an unregistered AR-15 with nine loaded magazines.
McGrattan said that despite the message and its context, Triana was not personally opposed to his own children getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
"He's not who the prosecutors have been making him out to be," McGrattan said. "He's a lifelong Bay Area resident. He's a hardworking man. He's a father of three children who he loves dearly."
"One notable thing is that his two oldest daughters are vaccinated against COVID ... and it's something where he respects that right to make that decision for themselves and to make that choice for themselves," he added.
Triana is set to be sentenced on Sept. 29 at 8:30 a.m., facing a maximum of four years in custody, according to the DA's office.
McGrattan said his client would be filing an appeal.