EXCLUSIVE: The Curious Case of CalCoastNews vs. Me

SLO Courthouse
San Luis Obispo Superior Court

They published an article that resulted in a defamation lawsuit and a $1.1 million judgment against them, but criticize them for their journalistic misconduct — and get slapped with a civil harassment order request. Criticize them for making unsubstantiated allegations — and get inundated with unsubstantiated accusations of “violent” stalking, harassment and threats.

That’s what CalCoastNews co-founder Karen Velie tried to do, but failed. On Aug. 23, Judge Charles Crandall dismissed her request, stating she was unable to provide evidence to her false and defamatory allegations against me.

Crandall admitted it was challenging for him to rule on this case, given that the verbal spats between Velie and I have gone on since 2015. Crandall was wrong, though. My critique and reporting on CalCoastNews dates back to 2011. While I can agree some of the posts Velie provided were “inappropriate,” the vast majority of my critique was well-articulated and based on CalCoastNews’ refusal to correct the record. Easily verifiable facts contradicted their editorial narratives. I pointed out they published unsubstantiated allegations without corroborating evidence in their work.

This case was no different.

On July 19, at the SLO Courthouse, I asked Velie three questions about her reporting on the Tenborg v. CalCoastNews. She didn’t respond. I went home, wrote what happened and left it at that.

Karen Velie
CalCoastNews’ Karen Velie arrest mugshot

But according to her complaint, Velie alleged that I “followed” her while she sought a guard; that I was yelling, gesticulating, and threatening her and her daughters. On the witness stand, Velie sobbed as she testified that she thought I was going to pull her by her ankles and toss her down the stairs. She claimed a guard attempted to detain me, but I “took fled” out of the courthouse. While oddly specific and disturbing, that account could not be verified by the guard she cited as her only live witness. Naturally, that over-the-top, hysterical account wasn’t factual.

Velie asserted that this was the latest in a pattern of harassment that made her and her relatives concerned for her safety, but her “evidence” was sorely lacking.

Velie painted a troubling picture of me, falsely claiming my father and I stalked her at her home. She even claimed that I showed up at her home one day on a motorcycle. I don’t own a motorcycle nor have I ever driven one. Judge Crandall stated that Velie filed no police reports about stalking — at least, no reports that mentioned me or my father. Neither of us know where she lives. I wasn’t contacted by law enforcement about any stalking incidents. Why? Because these so-called “incidents” didn’t happen.

At one point, Velie claimed that I randomly called her in Dec. 2016 while she was at Templeton Hospital with her grandchild to say she was mentally ill. She wept on the stand as she told the judge that I yelled and screamed at her over the phone, which caused her and her grandchild to cry. That didn’t happen. Phone records from that time period reveal that I never called her that month, but I did call her on Oct. 1 to make corrections in an article she wrote about my deposition. Velie yelled over me when I tried stating my corrections.

Velie falsely accused me of taking photos of relatives who attended “ACLU Constitution Day” in Sept. 2016 and attending the event to achieve that purpose. I was asked to attend the event by New Times columnist Bob Cuddy for moral support and to inquire about joining the local chapter. I ended up taking a photo of Velie and her attorney/friend Stew Jenkins for a column, noting their hypocrisy of protecting free speech while trying to chill mine. Jenkins, who currently serves as president of the local ACLU chapter, represented Velie at the hearing and argued my work had no “legitimate purpose,” therefore my commentary wasn’t protected free speech.

By that logic, Jenkins has no legitimate purpose serving in the ACLU.

To demonstrate my speech served “no legitimate purpose,” Jenkins had me review a random smattering of screenshots of posts dating as far back as 2013 (one of them wasn’t even mine). The majority of those posts called into question Velie’s state of mind without context. At the time I wrote those posts in question, I stated that I believe — and yes, I continue to believe — that Velie is unstable. My belief was not based on her medical records, but it was based on her personal behavior: pathological lying, showing reckless disregard for the truth and hurting innocent families in the process, harassing and threatening her critics, their critics’ supporters, etc. The list goes on.

The fact that she discussed purchasing a firearm, in her complaint, to protect herself from imaginary threats and stalking distinctly underscored my personal belief. Disturbing.

In a bizarre moment during the hearing, Jenkins showed me a screenshot of an exchange I had with Arroyo Grande resident Bill Leys. Last year, Leys made a comment about one of Velie’s daughters that I thought was crude and the mental image he conjured in my head elicited my reply, “Not enough bleach for the eyes,” jokingly referring to my eyes. Jenkins asked me if I was aware that many women in Afghanistan were tortured by their aggressors by getting bleach poured in their eyes and accused me of making a terrorist threat. I told him that I made a joke, which I regret making — now that it was spun into some elaborate terrorist threat that I clearly didn’t make. In her Aug. 24, 2017 article about the hearing, Velie wrote that I discussed “tossing bleach in [her daughter’s] eyes,” which is false. Her own “evidence” showed that.

At that point, it was clear I was being harassed by Velie using her flagrant abuse of process.

Karen Velie
Velie’s request for Aaron Ochs to “not write.”

Velie stated in her own civil harassment order request that she wanted me to “not write” and/or not publish “false and malicious” claims about her relatives. That request was echoed by her contributors/supporters Julie Tacker and Peggy Pavek, who submitted declarations, despite not being involved in the case.

Tacker, who has repeatedly reported me to the police over my posts and falsely stated that I was harassing her as a “private citizen,” wrote that she supported the “efforts to remove [my] blogs and websites from the Internet,” and bragged about getting some of my “threatening” posts removed from Facebook. This came after I launched an initiative called #NeverTacker, which educated and informed residents about Tacker’s voting record and personal conduct while she was running for re-election for the Los Osos Community Services District last year. I also published hundreds of pages of her public records requests made throughout the County. Earlier this year, I broke the story that Tacker and her partner Jeff Edwards were sued in two separate but related lawsuits for fraud, breach of contract and elder abuse. These lawsuits were later addressed in a state investigation. The investigation was also covered in the New Times. So far, the New Times hasn’t been removed from the Internet.

Pavek, who’s been in close contact with Tacker and Velie, has stated she hoped to see that I’m “personally barred from posting these evil and vicious lies.” In mid-2015, Pavek penned a letter attacking my “evil” family in the Tolosa Press’ Bay News. She randomly accused my mother of trying to “sabotage [her] daughter’s career,” which her daughter flatly denied. This was in response to a column I published, which explained to readers why I’ve focused on criticizing and fact-checking CalCoastNews. I didn’t appreciate my family being dragged in the mud to a wide readership because of my words. I defended my family. Since then, Pavek repeatedly attacked my family on social media, The Tribune and elsewhere, inciting violence against them and fantasizing about physically harming me — getting my fingers smashed and my neck broken.

Pavek, who referred to my father and me as “the devil and his disciple,” circulated a disturbing meme with my face on it juxtaposed beside a burning house. The meme read, “They thought the dead animals I left on their doorsteps were gifts. They were warnings.” Pavek falsely claimed I created the meme as a “confession.” Similarly, Velie alleged in her complaint against me that poisoned animals were left in their doorstep, strongly implying I was involved in that horrific activity. Last year, CalCoastNews co-founder Daniel Blackburn mentioned this allegation in an editorial and published a photo of me right above it. Yet Judge Crandall, who specifically mentioned the allegation, noted there was no evidence to back her claim.

I shared Pavek’s harassment and threatening comments with my readers. This disclosure angered Pavek who labeled it “harassment.” This triggered a series of disturbing and graphic comments Pavek made. I contacted the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Dept., showed them Pavek’s comments, and was told to file a civil harassment order against her. Should she continue her harassment, I’ll take the opportunity.

Of all the voluminous, bizarre and disconcerting allegations she made, Velie could only point to a photo I took of her on July 19, which was meant to accompany my short report on the debtor’s exam. She pointed to a handful of old posts that are no longer online, which the judge said were “inappropriate.” That wasn’t actionable. The judge said my conduct was “disturbing” based on her unfounded allegations, but he admitted it was challenging for him to ascertain all the facts in a case that’s spanned nearly seven years. Crandall also assumed my predecessor site Cal Coast Fraud was still online. It’s not.

To distract the court from her unclean hands, Velie — once again– falsely accused me of being part of a conspiracy with the person who sued her for defamation, his attorney and District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill to “destroy” her by publishing false allegations, yet she wasted five hours of the court’s time to hear her demonstrably false allegations about me and stillborn attempts to destroy my reputation. She falsely claimed the sole purpose of my reporting and critique was to shut her down, yet she and her supporters stated under oath that they’re trying to literally stop me from writing. When I mentioned in the court that Velie and I had a long and contentious history, Velie snapped, “No, it was you who has a history of attacking me.” Shortly after she made that statement, I introduced evidence showing that she contacted and harassed my former employer over my critical coverage.

I’m not into conspiracy theories, but their conspiracy to shut me up is much more than a theory.

This absurd-but-real conspiracy included extensive harassment toward my family, which I documented. The most recent incident of harassment before the civil harassment order was Velie’s disastrous appearance on 920 KVEC’s “Dave Congalton Show.” On May 23, Velie launched a tirade about me, saying a particular group of people was associated with me. She claimed this group, who she later identified as some of my readers, reportedly called her and her relatives misogynistic slurs. She mentioned a number of readers by name, accusing them of participating in this activity. Her behavior on the show resulted in her getting permanently banned from the station. Yet when I provided a transcript of the show in court, Velie denied making any of those comments about me, even though they were in her own words.

Velie’s strange denials continued in her account of what transpired at the hearing. Velie insisted to one commenter that the judge “did not say there was no proof,” that I stalked, threatened and harassed her, yet her request was dismissed due to lack of evidence. This is a matter of law, not my personal opinion. Velie even claimed the judge “thanked” Jenkins “for an excellent presentation after he had been brought into the case less than 24 hours before the hearing.” That didn’t happen either.

The judge was “troubled” that I repeatedly questioned Velie’s fitness to run a news site. I get that, but look what happened in the courtroom. If she goes through all this trouble to silence me and perjure herself in the process, what does that indicate?

There were people who attended the hearing in support of Velie, including Tacker, San Luis Obispo resident and CCN contributor Kevin P. Rice, CCN co-founder Daniel Blackburn and their private investigator Mike Brennler — each of these people came into court with unclean hands, guilty verdicts, bad intentions and shoddy reputations. Every one of them left the courtroom empty-handed.

Despite all of this, I’m not backing down. By publishing this column, I’m letting the community know what happened. There is a sickness in this community that affects anyone and everyone who come into their orbit. I got infected. I aggressively fought back, got caught in the muck and the judge admonished me for it. Nevertheless, I won and I’ll learn from the experience.

And, nevertheless, I will persist. I will do so by rising above the madness, leaving them in the past and focusing on the future. After this column, I will no longer be part of the vicious cycle.

Good riddance.

Author: Aaron Ochs

Aaron Ochs is a local columnist, entrepreneur and founder of SLO Truth. Ochs is also a member of the SLO Progressives club.

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