Ryan McDonald

McCool regrets online messages, but won’t exit Hermosa Beach Council race

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by Ryan McDonald

City Council candidate Matt McCool said this week he regrets sending inflammatory messages on social media several years ago, which included the comment, “Every proper woman knows that you don’t speak to a man until he address [sic] you first,” but that he has no plans to exit the race ahead of the November election.

The comments were posted last week on HB Future, one of several Facebook forums devoted to Hermosa Beach issues, by Redondo Beach resident Andrea Vestrand. Vestrand said in an interview that she received the messages via Facebook about three years ago.

At the time, McCool had filed a civil suit against Thomas Powers, whom McCool alleged had hit him in the face at Patrick Molloy’s shortly before St. Patrick’s Day in 2014. Vestrand said she made light of McCool’s lawsuit on social media, prompting a months-long series of acerbic and bizarre Facebook messages from him.

Vestrand said that she had posted McCool’s comments to her Facebook profile shortly after she originally received them in 2014, and that the posting had produced a prolific response. She then passed them on to Powers. In an interview Sunday, McCool characterized Vestrand as part of a circle of Powers’ associates who harassed him in the months following the incident; Vestrand said that providing the messages was the extent of her involvement with Powers. The messages were subsequently subpoenaed in McCool’s civil case.

Vestrand said she decided to repost them last week after learning McCool was running for City Council.

“It seems like if he is going to be leading the community, it’s important to know how his mind works. I can’t speak to his internal thoughts, but these comments definitely show a lack of respect for women,” Vestrand said.

McCool, a member of the city’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission, said Sunday he “absolutely” regretted comments he made in the months following the Patrick Molloy’s incident, but said he had no intention of withdrawing from the council race.

“Absolutely, I will not withdraw. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t said something they regret,” McCool said.

McCool would not confirm nor deny that he made particular statements contained in the messages by Vestrand, saying he would refer to his “deposition testimony” from a civil suit filed against Powers. He added that he had been blocked from the HB Future forum and could not review the comments. On Monday, when emailed a transcript of the text of the posted comments, McCool said he would follow up with an “official statement and deposition documents” from the civil suit. In a transcript of a segment of that deposition testimony McCool provided on Wednesday afternoon, McCool declines to say whether he remembered writing a message shown to him by a lawyer, the beginning of which corresponds to the message Vestrand posted last week, out of concern that it had not been properly authenticated. 

Although McCool was blocked from the forum as of Monday afternoon, he wasn’t blocked  at the time of Vestrand’s posting last week. Vestrand posted screenshots of the messages, dated Oct. 7, 2014, at 12:37 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 10. McCool responded at 1:04 p.m. the same day with a post that began, “After all these years I’m still being harassed by you…” The photo linked to McCool’s posting last week matches the one on the screenshots posted by Vestrand from the 2014 messages.

On Sunday, McCool referred to Vestrand as a “militant feminist,” a characterization that also appears in the 2014 Facebook messages. He said that part of his message was intended to be “political satire mocking [Vestrand’s] ideology.”

McCool attributed the harsh tone of his messages to the lingering pain from his injuries in the Patrick Molloy’s battery, and to stress from what he described as ongoing harassment from Powers and Powers’ associates. McCool said the attack left him with mid-cervical and upper-thoracic spinal injuries, which he said permanently limited his career and volunteer efforts in public safety and the military. (McCool has served as a volunteer firefighter, and is a reservist with the U.S. Navy.)

McCool denied that he ever wrote anything “vulgar, profane or threatening in any way” to Vestrand. When asked about the beginning of the posted message, in which McCool crafts an extended analogy between his situation following the incident at Patrick Molloy’s and a hypothetical in which Vestrand is “violently raped,” and then not believed, McCool said he was trying to make a point about what he characterized as his poor treatment by the Hermosa Beach Police Department. He said the evidence available, including security camera footage, made the criminal case a “slam dunk,” and said the length of time between the incident and the filing of charges against Powers was unacceptable.

“I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through what I went through. No one should have to go through that,” McCool said.

According to Lt. Landon Phillips of the Hermosa Beach Police Department, McCool was struck on March 15, 2014. Police delivered the case against Powers to the City Prosecutor on Sept. 16, 2014. According to court documents, the case was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Nov. 10, 2014. Powers pleaded no contest to charges of fighting in public and public intoxication in a plea agreement on Dec. 17 of that year. Assault charges against Powers were dropped as part of the plea agreement, and he received probation, along with being required to perform community service and pay a fine.

Phillips said that while he empathized with McCool’s frustration as the victim of a crime, there was nothing wrong with the department’s work in the case.

“I can understand that from Mr. McCool’s perspective it was lengthy. I’m not making any excuses, but detectives have hundreds of cases at any given time. Six month is actually pretty expedient,” he said.

McCool is one of seven candidates seeking three open seats in the coming November election. Many of the Facebook comments on last week’s posting suggested that McCool should drop out.

Mary Campbell, one of the candidates, first met McCool four years ago, when the two were in the same class of Leadership Hermosa. In an interview, Campbell said she agreed that McCool should exit the race.

“To me it’s a question of character, equality and respect, and judgment. People are, of course, free to have different philosophies about things. But if you want to be in a leadership position in a community that represents all kinds of different perspectives, to have such boldly shared extreme ideas about women is pretty disturbing,” Campbell said.

McCool denied that he was prejudiced against women, and noted that it was a woman who inspired his entrance into politics.

“In no way am I a misogynist. [Councilmember] Carolyn Petty was the one who inspired me to enter local politics, so that’s just erroneous to say that I am a misogynist,” McCool said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of the story stated that charges were filed against Powers on Sept. 16, 2014, approximately six months after the incident at Patrick Molloy’s. While this was the day that HBPD delivered the case to the City Prosecutor, court documents indicate that the case was filed on Nov. 10, 2014, almost eight months after the incident. According to HBPD Lt. Phillips, this was the first available date at the Torrance branch of the Los Angeles Superior Court after the case was handed over.

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