Santa Barbara resident talks to police about Christmas Eve attack that left her bruised
Rebecca Brand is nothing if not determined.
The Santa Barbara social influencer has spent the past two weeks making phone calls and sending texts and emails to police, prosecutors and city of Santa Barbara officials. She has insisted that they take her concerns seriously about the Christmas Eve attack that caused her a serious bruise.
That’s when her alleged assailant repeatedly slammed Ms. Brand’s iPhone into her leg in an attempt to wrest it away from her. Ms. Brand sent the News-Press a photo of the bruise.
Specifically, Ms. Brand wants to know why Nelly Gackowska hasn’t been charged with assaulting her in addition to robbery and grand theft, why the assault wasn’t included in the police report, and why she’s had such a hard time getting law enforcement officials to answer her questions.
She described herself as an overachiever. “I’m being very thorough,” she told the News-Press. “Not many people would do what I’m doing. Why is it so difficult with 10 letters to get answers from the people involved?”
Ms. Brand was involved in a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when she witnessed a thrown rock shatter the entire front window of Rudy’s, a Mexican restaurant at 3613½ State St. in Santa Barbara.
She said she saw a transient woman, later identified as Ms. Gackowska, and a man standing there. She said the woman seized her cell phone.
Sgt. Ethan Ragsdale, the Santa Barbara Police Department’s public information officer, told the News-Press Thursday that he called Ms. Brand and spoke to her.
“The case was a little confusing because it was technically two separate incidents and had two case numbers,” he said. “I explained everything to her, and she seemed very satisfied.”
Not yet, Ms. Brand said.
“My opinion is I don’t know,” she said. “I’m not trained to understand what charges mean. He’s declaring that the robbery charge is even stronger than theft of a person, that it’s better than assault. With assault, you can get off with a fine, but robbery involves violence to do the robbery. It’s not just taking. They’re having to hurt someone to be successful at the robbery.”
The complaint filed against the defendant charges her with both second-degree robbery and grand theft from a person for allegedly taking Ms. Brand’s iPhone Pro from her against her will and without her consent.
Both are felonies, but the robbery charge is a serious, violent felony in that Ms. Gackowski allegedly took the phone “by means of force and fear.”
Further, the complaint lists aggravating factors, alleging the crime “involved great violence, great bodily harm, threat of great bodily harm or other acts disclosing a high degree of cruelty, viciousness or callousness,” and that the victim was “particularly vulnerable.”
District Attorney John Savrnoch said Sgt. Ragsdale is right in his assessment.
“The detective is correct,” said Mr. Savrnoch, who was sworn in as the district attorney on Monday. “Robbery (a violent felony) is a more serious charge than simple assault and battery (misdemeanors).”
Ms. Gackowska, 60, has pleaded not guilty to both charges, and she is scheduled to appear in court Monday to set a date for her preliminary hearing. As of now, the hearing is set for Tuesday, but it could be continued to another date.
Ms. Brand said she was appeased by Sgt. Ragsdale’s assurance that she could write up her account of the phone-taking incident and the window-breaking incident that preceded it, which she witnessed, and that the police would add it to their report, which they would forward to prosecutors.
Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Branch, the prosecutor handling the case, declined to say whether her office would amend the complaint after receiving the amended police report.
“I can’t speak to facts or details of the case,” she told the News-Press. “If we receive additional information, it could affect which charges are filed.”
D.A. Savrnoch repeated that he cannot comment on the facts of pending cases.
However, he said, “our victim advocate and prosecuting attorney have met with and are scheduling a subsequent interview of the victim to make sure we have all of the evidence/statements that are relevant. We can amend charges while a case is pending if the facts warrant it.”