When a group of friends rebuffed multiple demands to wear masks inside the Sahara Theater in Anaheim, they were kicked out of the strip club in the early-morning hours of Halloween for not following the state’s coronavirus restrictions.
The men returned to the gentleman’s club in their Honda sedan shortly thereafter, but they were not looking to reenter and keep the party going. Instead of masks, they brought with them an AK-47 to shoot at the outside of the establishment, according to authorities, firing 15 rounds from the car and hospitalizing three people with gunshot wounds.
Nearly two months later, the Anaheim residents were arrested in what police described to The Washington Post as the most extreme anti-mask incident in the city to date.
On Monday, Edgar Nava-Ayala, 34, and Daniel Juvenal Ocampo, 22, were charged with three felony counts of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation, three felony counts of assault with an assault weapon, and one felony count of shooting into an occupied building. A third man, Juan Jose Acosta-Soto, 20, was charged with three felony counts of assault with an assault weapon and one felony count of shooting into an occupied building.
All three men have pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to a news release from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
If convicted on all charges, Nava-Ayala and Ocampo face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Acosta-Soto faces a maximum prison sentence of more than 17 years.
Anaheim Police Sgt. Shane Carringer told The Post that the men were arrested Thursday, adding that the city avoided a near-tragedy with the dozens of people inside the club at the time of the Halloween shooting.
“It is nothing short of a miracle that no one was killed,” Carringer said. “There were over 30 people in there and these guys are suspected of indiscriminately firing at innocent bystanders with a high-powered rifle.”
The strip club shooting is just one example in a long line of mask disputes that have led to gunfire since the start of the pandemic. In May, a Family Dollar security guard in Flint, Mich., was killed after telling a customer that her child had to wear a mask to enter the store. That same month, a maskless San Antonio man who was denied entry on a bus proceeded to shoot and critically injure a passenger who had confronted him for not wearing a face covering, authorities said. In August, a Pennsylvania man was charged after allegedly opening fire outside a cigar shop that had asked him to wear a mask.
The district attorney’s office said Nava-Ayala and Ocampo were “escorted out of the club because they refused to wear face coverings.” When the three men came back in their car at about 1:35 a.m. on Oct. 31, police say Nava-Ayala ripped off 15 rounds from an AK-47 into the Sahara Theater.
Three people — two employees and a customer — were hospitalized and suffered minor to moderate injuries to their upper body that were not life-threatening. A fourth person was wounded, but refused medical attention, Carringer said.
In California, gentlemen’s clubs like the Sahara Theater are allowed to operate if they provide food, which would classify them as a restaurant instead of a bar or live entertainment venue.
A manager with the club declined to comment to The Post, saying, “All the info is out there.”
Carringer said Anaheim police had worked “nonstop” for about six weeks as part of the investigation to track down the three men, arresting them in different locations Thursday. None of them had a significant previous record before the shooting, he said.
“In Anaheim, this is as close as we’ve gotten to a mass shooting,” Carringer said.
Nava-Ayala, Ocampo and Acosta-Soto are being held at the Orange County Jail on $5 million bail each. Their attorneys did not immediately return a request for comment early Tuesday.