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Suspected shooter in attacks on Jewish men was on FBI’s radar, LAPD chief says

A man accused of the hate-motivated shooting of two Jewish men in Los Angeles was on the FBI’s radar before the attacks, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said.

In the year leading up to the shooting, Jaime Tran had been charged with carrying a loaded firearm and was under investigation after threatening and racist messages were sent to former dental school classmates, according to court documents and interviews.

How Tran slipped through the FBI’s threat-tracking system, despite suggestions that he posed a significant and perhaps deadly threat, is still being investigated by the FBI, Moore and other officials said.

In a departure from the usual reluctance of local law enforcement leaders to publicly question the actions of federal agencies, Moore made his remarks at a Los Angeles Police Commission meeting on Tuesday.

“He was on the radar, if you will, of our FBI partners in what we call a ‘Guardian lead’ because of hateful comments or emails he sent to former classmates at a dental school he attended,” Moore said.

Moore said Tran, 28, had been the subject of mental health evaluations and had and has suffered from mental illness over the years.

The chief said that Tran had shot the two Jewish men, who survived, with a pistol and was also carrying a rifle when he was arrested Feb. 16 in Cathedral City.

“How he came into possession of both that rifle and the pistol, given his mental health condition, is the subject of our ongoing investigation,” Moore said.

Investigators believe the guns were obtained outside of California, the chief said. Tran told investigators he got the guns in Arizona.

“Was everything done?” Moore said. “The FBI continues to evaluate and revisit their efforts over the past few years in terms of interacting with him and making sure everything that could be done has been done.”

The The FBI’s Guardian Threat Tracking System documents potential terrorist threats and suspicious incidents, assigns them for follow-up investigation, and issues warnings about potential threats or suspicious activity.

According to two law enforcement sources not authorized to speak on the record, at least two Guardian reports on Tran were generated before the shootings.

According to one source, the Guardian reports may be of limited use as the actions they document often do not lead to criminal acts.

“While this is an ongoing investigation and prosecution, the Chief is correct that Guardian leads were generated, shared with the appropriate partners and investigated. The leads did not lead to any federal charges,” Laura Eimiller, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said in a statement. “The information generated helped law enforcement apprehend Mr. Tran within hours of the attacks and potentially stop further acts of violence.”

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study for Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, said a structural failure appears to have occurred in Tran’s case.

“The Guardian system didn’t have a sentinel in the box. This assailant was well on the authorities’ radar screen and nothing was done,” Levin said. “How was it possible that Tran had access to firearms, given his ongoing criminal trial for gun possession and the anti-Semitic threats?”

Tran told investigators after his arrest that he had searched Yelp for a kosher market to target Jewish people in the first shooting near Shenandoah and Cashio streets in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. The victim, in his 40s, was shot in the back on February 15 as he walked to his vehicle.

The next morning, about a block away, Tran allegedly shot a man in the arm as the man was walking home.

Both victims wore black coats and head coverings that indicated their Jewish faith.

Within hours of obtaining footage from Tran’s Honda Civic, LAPD major crimes detectives identified him and discovered his history of anti-Semitic threats.

Federal prosecutors charged Tran with two hate crime charges for allegedly targeting and shooting the two Jewish men. He faces a life sentence without parole.

Federal and local authorities first became aware of Tran’s hateful tirades last year.

According to the federal complaint blaming Tran for the shootings, Tran was expelled from dental school in 2018. Law enforcement sources identified the school as UCLA.

In late 2022, a former dentistry classmate received repeated calls and texts from Tran.

Identified as MNH in the indictment, the man, who is Jewish, told investigators that Tran had sent him “numerous threatening and anti-Semitic voicemails and text messages.”

One of the messages said, “I want you dead, Jew,” the indictment said.

In November, Tran emailed dozens of former classmates from the same dental school.

In an email, Tran wrote, “That class of 2020 Persian/Iranian Jew made up a fake disease, bs disease (COVID).”

Beverly Hills police chief Mark Stainbrook told The Times that Tran made some of the threats to a person in Connecticut and law enforcement in Southern California contacted agencies there.

The Connecticut individual and another individual who received threatening messages from Tran did not seek criminal charges, according to two law enforcement sources not authorized to discuss the investigations.

But the two cases brought Tran to the attention of the FBI, the sources said.

In both cases, although the language and threats were blatantly racist, they did not lead to a crime because no violence was involved, one of the sources said.

It’s unclear why the threats didn’t prompt more action from the FBI, given Tran’s documented history of mental illness and the gun charges against him.

On July 3, someone saw an armed man sitting on a bench near the tech building on the Cal State Long Beach campus, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

According to prosecutors, Tran told officers he carried the loaded gun for protection. He was charged with possession of a loaded firearm on a school campus.

Tran was scheduled to appear at a pre-trial hearing in late February. Records show that he was released without posting any bail.

By charging Tran with the gun crime, LA County Dist. Attention. George Gascón said his office was not aware of Tran’s previous hate-related actions and that Tran had no criminal history.

Gascón said no one informed the prosecutor in the gun case of Tran’s threats to former classmates and prosecutors never received a request to charge Tran with the threats — all of which could have led to any intervention, including the withdrawal of Tran’s bail or obtain a plea. that included mental health care.

“The dots were never connected for us,” he said. “This is the first time I’m hearing this was on the FBI’s radar.”