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Suspected synagogue shooter pleads not guilty to hate crime

Surveillance footage images of a man who entered a San Francisco synagogue on Feb. 1 and fired blanks, before exiting. | Courtesy FBI

A man accused of firing blanks from a replica gun inside a San Francisco synagogue has pleaded not guilty to all charges in what prosecutors are calling a hate crime.

Dmitri Mishin, 51, wore orange jail garb to his arraignment Friday on two felony hate crime charges and six misdemeanor counts of interfering with religious worship and brandishing an imitation firearm.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Victor M. Hwang ordered him to remain jailed without bail but said he's open to exploring alternatives to incarceration.

During Mishin's initial court appearance in the Feb. 1 shooting, Assistant Public Defender Olivia Taylor described her client as “innocent” and “not guilty of a hate crime.”

At Friday's arraignment, Taylor said Mishin is a longtime patient at a Richmond District mental health facility. She also told the court that Mishin's mother and sister informed her that their family has Jewish background and many Jewish relatives.

"It is my sincere belief that Mr. Mishin was in no way motivated by antisemitism," she told the court.

Prosecutors say otherwise.

They allege that Mishin terrorized the congregation of the Schneerson Center, a storefront synagogue in the Richmond that caters to older, Russian-speaking immigrants.

Surveillance footage from the center shows a man who resembles Mishin entering the building during an evening study session and firing several shots in the air before waving goodbye and leaving. No one was hurt in the strange outburst.

A day earlier, police say the same suspect—later identified as Mishin—brandished a gun at the Balboa Theatre just down the street.

Synagogue leaders told The Standard they were initially unsure whether the incident was motivated by hate. After Mishin’s Feb. 3 arrest, however, The Standard discovered social media accounts in his name that featured Nazi imagery and photos of someone who looks like Mishin in a World War II-era German military uniform, as well as footage of something burning on the sidewalk outside the synagogue.

Deputy District Attorney Jamal Anderson told the court that the video seemed to show Mishin as the person outside the synagogue doing the burning.

The prosecution said Mishin targeted the synagogue to terrorize congregants because of their religion. Anderson said Mishin's access to firearms, which were found in his home while serving a search warrant, suggests he's a threat to the public.

Ultimately, Hwang said actions outweigh motive in deciding what bail to set. And firing a weapon in a place where seniors gather, as prosecutors say Mishin did, is an "extreme and aberrant act," the judge added.

Hwang denied the request from defense to let Mishin out of jail. However, the judge said the court might reconsider if Mishin addressed his mental health issues.

According to police records, Mishin has a long history of aggression and run-ins with law enforcement—only a few of which resulted in criminal charges.

A family member previously told The Standard that Mishin had “been terrorizing society for the last 10 years.” 

“Next time—God forbid—if he’s released he’ll come with a real gun,” the relative said.

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