A San Bruno man will undergo psychiatric examination after allegedly threatening to kill elected officials and attorneys on the Peninsula last fall.
John Costa’s attorney postponed criminal proceedings against the “paranoid” 64-year-old this week after questioning his competency to stand trial, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
In one of a series of alarming incidents between September and December, Costa phoned threats in to the San Bruno City Clerk’s Office warning that he would kill city council members and police who tried to enter his home, authorities said.
Costa had “manufactured in his mind” that the San Bruno officials were trying to cause him harm, Wagstaffe said Monday.
Costa also left several messages at St. Dunstan Church in Millbrae claiming a priest there had killed his mother and another parishioner, authorities said.
Costa allegedly threatened attorneys as well. He left up to 60 phone messages in one weekend to Millbrae Attorney George Corey. He stated Corey was in cahoots with President Barack Obama and the Secret Service and that the attorney “needed to be executed,” Wagstaffe said.
When Corey wouldn’t represent him, Costa then turned to attorneys Al and Ann Martin. He repeatedly called them, telling them they’d better take him on as a client or else, Wagstaffe said.
A search of Costa’s home showed no credible evidence that Costa had planned to carry out his threats, authorities said.
“Mental illness is what’s driving this,” Wagstaffe said.
Still, the nature of the threats was serious enough to prompt an arrest.
Costa is battling four misdemeanor charges for making threats via electronic communication. His case has been continued to Feb. 28, when the court will rule whether he is competent to stand trial.
He remains in custody on $7,500 bail.
Costa’s criminal proceedings are occurring amid heightened awareness about threats on public officials. On Jan. 8, a shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and wounded 13, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Recent threats were also directed against Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who represents parts of San Mateo County. Yee received threatening faxes in April after he sought to expose how much Sarah Palin was paid to speak at Cal State Stanislaus and again last month after he criticized Rush Limbaugh for mocking the Chinese language, according to his spokesman Adam Keigwin.
Wagstaffe said serious threats against public officials in San Mateo County are uncommon.
Emotions gone awry
Some citizens go too far in expressing disagreement or interest in elected officials. The following are instances in which threats and stalking caused alarm for local politicians:
Leland Yee stalker: The state senator was sent a racist and threatening fax after he requested info about the fee Sarah Palin received to speak at Cal State Stanislaus, then received a similar threat fax after he condemned Rush Limbaugh for mocking the Chinese language during his conservative radio program.
Nancy Pelosi stalker: A 49-year-old man admitted to making dozens of harassing phone calls to the then-House speaker and threatened to destroy her property if she voted for health care reform legislation.
Gavin Newsom stalker: In 2007, a 42-year-old Union City man reportedly acted bizarrely at the then-mayor’s public events and had entered Newsom’s Russian Hill apartment building. The mentally unstable man wore purple latex gloves because it is the color of royalty. City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a restraining order against him.
Kevin Johnson threat: Sacramento police detained a man after he made what sounded like a threatening comment to the Sacramento mayor as he was having breakfast with staff at a downtown restaurant. He told the mayor he would be out of office within hours.
Source: Police reports