Third arrest in Costa Mesa Planned Parenthood firebomb plot
A Florida man was arrested and identified as the third suspect involved in the 2022 firebombing of a Costa Mesa Planned Parenthood clinic along with a U.S. Marine and another accomplice, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday.
Xavier Batten, 21, of Brooksville, Fla., was arrested by the FBI on Friday and accused of conspiring with Chance Brannon, a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, and Tibet Ergul of Irvine to burn down the clinic in March 2022 using a Molotov cocktail.
All three are charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of malicious destruction of property by fire and explosion. Brannon and Ergul are both also charged with one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device and one misdemeanor count of intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility.
Brannon, 23, of San Juan Capistrano, and Ergul, 21, are accused of being the two masked and hooded individuals who were caught on security video tossing the Molotov cocktail on March 13, 2022, igniting a blaze. Both were taken into custody without incident last month and pleaded not guilty at their arraignment Monday morning in Santa Ana.
Batten is accused of advising and directing Brannon on how to make the Molotov cocktail.
“The violent and reckless attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic alleged in the indictment is intolerable,’’ U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said. “This indictment shows that federal law enforcement will work diligently to uncover and hold accountable those who plan and carry out violent extremist acts against others.”
Threats and violence targeting reproductive healthcare facilities have become increasingly common, with the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuting more than two dozen such cases in the last four years, including a group that tried to physically block an entrance to a Washington, D.C., clinic last year and a man who in 2020 and 2021 shot a BB gun at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pasadena.
After the firebombing last year, Nichole Ramirez, vice president of communications and donor relations for Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino counties, called such attacks unacceptable.
“The safety of our staff, patients, and supporters is our highest priority, and we are working in collaboration with the FBI and local law enforcement to prosecute this attack to the fullest extent of the law,” Ramirez said in a statement last year. “[We] will continue to provide expert, compassionate care for the community as we have done for over 50 years.”
On the day of the attack, Brannon and Ergul left Ergul’s Irvine home, went to Planned Parenthood and tossed the Molotov cocktail at the clinic entrance, prosecutors alleged. The resulting fire forced the facility to close the following morning and cancel about 30 appointments.
Images from the security videos in the affidavit show two men wearing hooded sweatshirts and face masks approach the Planned Parenthood facility about 1 a.m. They ignite a device and throw it at the front door of the building.
“The device landed against a southern wall next to the glass door and erupted into a fire, which spread up the wall and across the ceiling above the glass door,” according to the original complaint filed in the case.
Costa Mesa firefighters knocked down the fire on Nutmeg Place, and a subsequent analysis of evidence showed that a glass container and other materials at the scene contained gasoline.
After authorities appealed to the public for help in identifying the attackers, a witness called the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center saying that she knew the suspects from high school and could identify them.
The day after the fire, Ergul allegedly texted the witness, taking credit for the fire and noting that he wished he “could’ve recorded the combustion.” According to the affidavit, Ergul sent the acquaintance a photograph of his gloved hand holding the Molotov cocktail from inside Brannon’s car.
Federal agents also obtained phone records that showed Brannon was in the vicinity of Planned Parenthood at the time of the attack and again later, about 3 a.m., according to the affidavit. A Dodge vehicle driven by Brannon found by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service outside the barracks was also tied to the crime, according to the affidavit filed last month.
Brannon and Ergul are scheduled to face trial Sept. 5 before U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney. After his arrest, Batten made his initial court appearance Friday in Florida and was ordered held without bond pending trial.
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