Probation, rehabilitation, and restitution in his future
by Neal Putnam
Moe Girton, the owner of Gossip Grill, looked at the big picture when asked how she felt about the drug treatment sentence of the man who set fire to her restaurant causing $5,849 in damages on Oct. 20.
“It’s just material damage,” Girton told LGBTQ San Diego County News. “The building didn’t go up. I’m good with [the sentence].
“He lost his way. He was very mentally unwell,” Girton added, saying she was “100% behind him getting treatment.”
On Jan 18, San Diego Superior Court Judge Rachel Cano imposed 200 days in jail for Ryan Scott Habrel, 38, and ruled that since he had served 187 days in jail with credits for good behavior, Habrel was released Jan. 19 to a residential drug treatment program.
Cano ordered Habrel to pay $5,849 in restitution to Girton for the fire, which damaged outdoor seating and awnings outside the entrance of the 1220 University Ave. restaurant and other areas.
She also ordered Habrel to stay away from Girton and Gossip Grill, as well as Urban MO’s, with two years probation. Habrel used to work as a bartender for Urban MO’s, another restaurant and bar in Hillcrest.
“If he violates his [probation] terms, he goes back to jail,” Girton said.
The judge also suspended a four-year state prison term which Habrel won’t have to serve, but if he has significant violations of his probation terms, he could end up in state prison. He pleaded guilty Dec. 18 to arson, which is a felony, without having a preliminary hearing.
Girton said she saw him on the day of the fire and he was talking to himself, walking around without shoes, and was homeless. Later, when she viewed the restaurant video, it showed him setting the fire with lighter fluid and he was giggling, she said.
“He looked a lot better [in court],” she said.
Habrel was wearing blue jail clothes, but Girton, who attended the hearing, said she thought he seemed more alert, clear headed and just better than when she last saw him before the fire.
Habrel was also placed on concurrent two years probation for felony vandalism at Rite-Aid in Hillcrest in which he destroyed 10 champagne bottles in the Fifth Avenue store. He was ordered to pay $3,232 to Rite-Aid.
Cano ordered him to stay away from Rite-Aid, not possess firearms, ammunition, or incendiary devices. The Rite-Aid vandalism occurred on Oct. 9; he was released on his own recognizance Oct. 16, and just four days later, the arson at Gossip Grill occurred.
Habrel said nothing in court, but had explained his actions to a probation officer, who wrote a report that was released on Jan. 23.
“My brain was fried from smoking that stuff,” Habrel said, referring to fentanyl, according to his interview.
He said he didn’t specifically target Gossip Grill, but he was “just high” and “is thankful he did not light himself on fire,” according to the report.
Habrel wants to “make reparations,” for the damages he caused from “his very dumb actions,” the report quoted him as saying.
Girton said when the fire department first arrived at the scene and put out the fire, they initially suspected the cause was electrical. Girton said that didn’t make sense because it burned where there was no electrical outlet and the rainbow flag was also burned.
Then she saw the video in which a giggling Habrel started the fire with lighter fluid.
When he was first arrested, Habrel said he wanted to “burn the city down and proceeded to find the best wood structure,” the report said.
He admitted to police that he shoplifted a $6.99 bottle of lighter fluid from Ralphs and had also been smoking “some bad fentanyl,” according to the report.
He told police he selected Gossip Grill “because they were gossiping and he needed the gossip to end in his mind.” Habrel also said he tried to set a telephone pole on fire.
The report said Habrel was later polite and cooperative while talking to a probation officer.
“The interview process was explained, including the fact nothing he said would be confidential and that he had the right to terminate the interview at any time. The defendant indicated he understood and did not submit a written statement,” the report said.
No one was injured in the fire.
–Neal Putnam is a local crime reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].
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