By Thomas K. Pendergast
After walking into a Richmond District synagogue and firing off shots using blank cartridges, a suspect now in custody faces multiple felony charges and has a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) against him.
Dmitri Valerie Mishin, 51, of San Francisco faces six counts of felony interfering with religious worship, with hate crime enhancements for each count, plus misdemeanor charges of disturbing religious meetings and six counts of drawing or exhibiting an imitation firearm, according to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
Documents from the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, responsible for giving Mishin the GVRO in a separate civil court action, allege that on Feb. 1, at approximately 7:20 p.m., Mishin walked into the Schneerson Center on Balboa Street, a synagogue that serves Russian-speaking Jews, spoke a few words of “broken Russian,” then pulled a handgun out and fired at least six rounds of blank ammunition around the room and toward the ceiling.
Although he did not point or fire his gun at anyone in the room, the shooting interrupted a group of about a dozen elders who were eating dinner at a banquet table a few feet away after evening prayers. Before leaving, he “muttered something about Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency,” according to the court documents.
Two witnesses quoted in a police incident report stated that when Mishin entered, they heard him say either “Shalom” or “Shalom Jerusalem” using the Russian word for Jerusalem. And then they heard him say either “give my greetings to Mossad” or “greetings to Mossad” before he left.
The previous day, Jan. 31, Mishin allegedly entered the Balboa Theater on Balboa Street and brandished a handgun. He walked into the theater’s lobby area with “a live parrot on his shoulder, browsed the merchandise, and asked an employee to take a picture of him using the employee’s cell phone.”
According to court documents, Mishin smelled like alcohol as he “posed in front of the merchandise and, right before the picture was taken, he pulled out and brandished a handgun. The employee asked Mishin to leave, and he walked out of the theater,”
An incident report from an officer responding to that call said, “The suspect did not point the handgun at anyone; he pointed it up in the air as the photograph was taken.” An employee said the suspect stated, “Don’t worry, it’s a movie production.” But none of the employees there could tell if the gun was real or not.
On Feb. 3, the SFPD identified Mishin as the suspect involved in both incidents and they allege that when he was arrested at his residence, they seized a Saiga .308 rifle with seven rounds in the magazine; 100 rounds of .308 caliber ammunition and 100 rounds of .22 caliber ammunition; a replica AK47 with a magazine, another unidentified replica handgun with eight blank rounds in its magazine; and a “broken” rifle.
These are not the only incidents where Mishin attracted police attention. Court documents list several previous contacts going back to July 6, 2011, when he was arrested for allegedly taking a flagpole from a planter box and hitting someone with it.
On July 15, he was arrested for alleged domestic violence. Police got an Emergency Protective Order against Mishin and seized a replica World War II machine gun, two air guns and a replica grenade.
On June 24, 2018, he was arrested after allegedly getting into a fight and throwing an axe at someone.
On Dec. 28, 2019, he was arrested for allegedly stabbing someone during a fight after drinking alcohol all night.
On Feb. 23, 2020, he was arrested after allegedly committing sexual battery against a minor.
On June 13, 2021, he was seen in a park holding a rifle. Police detained him and found he had a .22 caliber rifle and ammunition. He said it was a “movie prop” but police say it was a functioning firearm.
Except for the 2021 encounter, all the other incidents have two things in common. In each case it was noticed that he either had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath or was under the influence of alcohol at the time. In every one of these contacts with police, including the 2021 incident, none of these arrests resulted in a conviction, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
“Mr. Mishin is a textbook example of someone who poses a risk to the public and should not have access to firearms,” said City Attorney David Chiu in a press release. “Our office is ramping up our gun violence restraining order program, and this case serves as an opportunity to remind the public that GVROs are one of the most effective tools we have to prevent gun violence and save lives.”
Mishin’s attorney Deputy Public Defender Olivia Taylor, however, argues that the hate-crime enhancements on the charges filed by the District Attorney’s Office are not supported by the evidence given at his preliminary hearing.
“Judge Loretta Giorgi dropped all hate crime allegations against Dmitri Mishin on March 7, as there was no evidence that Mr. Mishin was motivated by anti-Semitism,” Taylor said in an emailed statement. “The evidence clearly showed that Mr. Mishin, a Jewish man and avid military history enthusiast, often dressed up in costume and acted in several movies about World War II, where he played both Russian and German soldiers. Mr. Mishin has long faced mental health challenges, which I believe were the underlying cause of his actions on Feb. 1.
“Unfortunately, the District Attorney’s Office has elected to re-file the hate crime allegations that were discharged at the preliminary hearing, despite the lack of evidence to support them. I plan to challenge the prosecution’s re-filing of the hate crime allegations in court, and I strongly believe I will prevail based on the factual findings already made during the preliminary hearing.”
In an emailed response from the SFDA’s office, Communications Director Randy Quezada confirmed that additional charges have been filed against Mishin but did not specify that they were related to hate crimes.
“On March 21, the District Attorney’s Office filed additional charges against Dmitri Mishin in connection to the Feb. 1 incident at the Schneerson Center in the Richmond District,” Quezada wrote. “The additional charges were filed in light of new evidence presented at Mishin’s preliminary hearing.”
If convicted of all current charges, Mishin is facing more than 10 years in prison.
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