Prosecutors cast him as an armed anti-vaxxer who threatened to kill a California lawmaker over a bill that would allow teens to get Covid vaccinations without parental permission. The defense painted him as a father of three who made a mistake that he deeply regrets.
Those were the two characterizations presented in court Wednesday of Erik Triana, a 51-year-old San Ramon resident who allegedly issued a death threat against state Sen. Scott Wiener in January while hoarding a cache of illegal weapons that authorities say he planned to use.
Triana—whose trial opened Wednesday morning in Martinez—is charged with eight felony counts, including threatening a state official and possessing assault weapons.
The trial comes at a time of heightened fear over violence aimed at politicians after the Jan. 6 occupation of the U.S. Capitol and ongoing backlash against public officials over Covid-19 vaccinations and pandemic regulations.
It also came less than a month after Wiener reported another threat by someone who said there was a bomb in his home. And it came on the same day he withdrew his vaccination bill, SB 866.
“The anti-vaxxer harassment campaign worked this time, at the expense of teen health,” Wiener wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “We lost this round but aren’t going anywhere.”
The bill would have allowed kids aged 15 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent.
It was Wiener’s proposed bill, assistant district attorney Stephanie Kang said, that prompted Triana to send a threatening message to Wiener on Jan. 22, when he left an anonymous message on the politician’s website saying, “Vax my kids without my permission and expect a visit from me and my rifle.”
His message also included the address of the Moscone Center, which Kang said was further evidence of Triana’s plans to kill or harm Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco—just like George Moscone, who was assassinated at City Hall in 1978.
“The defendant’s conduct went far beyond a call for action or a political protest,” Kang said, adding that police found a loaded AR-15 in Triana’s car and nine loaded magazines as well as two ghost guns in his home.
Kang said Triana talked openly about his weapons with coworkers at U-Haul and was otherwise pretty open about his reactionary political views. The defendant’s words and actions suggested he was serious about carrying out his threat, Kang argued.
But defense attorney Ian McGrattan said the picture painted by the prosecution was a distortion of his client’s character and an unfair description of a mistake that even police did not take seriously.
Triana, a father of three, McGrattan said, is a good man who would never hurt anyone. His threatening words were no more than a terrible mistake, McGrattan contended.
“Erik Triana is not who the prosecution would have you believe he is,” the defense attorney said. “Is he a man who has violent intentions? Or is he someone who made a mistake and posted a comment on the internet?”
Triana, who was raised in Union City by his grandparents, is a divorced co-parent who home-schooled his children and has a number of people who will vouch for his character, McGrattan continued. His ex-wife, oldest daughter and retired Alameda County sheriff deputy father plan to testify on his behalf, his lawyer told the court.
The weapons found in Triana’s car and home had been purchased long before the January threat was made and were not going to be used by his client, McGrattan said. Triana built many of the weapons as a way to bond with his 13-year-old son, the attorney went on to say.
McGrattan characterized the message left on Wiener’s website as a mistake that wasn’t even taken seriously by the legislator’s staff or authorities, who waited for two months to search Triana’s home.
“Wiener is a politician, a public figure,” McGrattan said, who gets anywhere from 20 to 30 threats a month.
The trial will resume on Tuesday.
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at [email protected]