Student who allegedly threatened to kill pleads not guilty


Updated: Nov. 25, 10:50 a.m. This story has been edited for clarity.

Updated: Nov. 20, 10:10 a.m. In the original story, Jeffrey Lewis’ title was listed as detective. He was promoted to sergeant earlier this week.

Updated: Nov. 19, 5 p.m. This story has been edited for clarity.

Updated: Nov. 19, 11:50 a.m. More information has been added to this story.

The 35-year-old Hawthorne man who allegedly threatened to create a “massacre” on the Library Lawn pleaded not guilty to an additional seven counts during his second arraignment in Torrance court today.

James Lemus, dressed in a light blue L.A. County Jail jumpsuit similar to the one he wore at his Nov. 4 preliminary hearing, smiled and mouthed, “Hi, mom,” to his mother as he entered the courtroom.

Originally, Lemus had one felony count charged against him. Now, the number of charges has been increased to eight. Deputy DA Patrick O’ Crowley said the other counts are from EC employees coming forward and saying they felt threatened and scared after hearing about the threats.

“The original complaint just alleged the one count,” O’ Crowley said. “What we did was put on evidence there were other people at the school aware of the threats.”

O’ Crowley said getting the eight counts approved was difficult, given the broad nature of the threats. “You could conceive anybody else at the school coming forward and saying, ‘Hey, that was about me,'” he said.

EC Police Chief Michael Trevis, EC’s attorney Michael Travis, and the husband of English instructor Leeanne Bergeron never entered the courtroom but stayed in the hall outside.

The first temporary restraining order (TRO) filed last month protects Vice President of Academic Affairs Francisco Arce. The second TRO protects Bergeron and “all employees of the El Camino Community College District.”

Lemus told Veterans Center employee Miriam Jauregui he was going to create a “massacre” on the Library Lawn, making it look like the shooting that killed six plus the gunman near the University of California, Santa Barbara that took place in May, according to temporary restraining orders filed last month.

At Lemus’ Oct. 21 arraignment at Torrance Courthouse, he pleaded not guilty to the one felony count of threatening a school official.

During Lemus’ Nov. 4 preliminary hearing, it was ruled the case will go to trial. In the nearly two hours spent in the courtroom, Jauregui, Arce, ECPD Sergeant Jeffrey Lewis, who took Lemus into custody Oct. 1, and Police Chief Michael Trevis testified.

Jauregui said during her testimony that she took Lemus’ comments as a “serious threat,” adding he talked to her about several things, including his childhood and being upset about his morning class.

Lemus’ public defender Jonathan Cruz asked Jauregui if what Lemus said to her Sept. 30 seemed to make sense. “Yes because he was upset,” she said. “No because no one talks that way.”

Arce said he had not seen Lemus before the Nov. 4 hearing, but was “very concerned” about the threats. “If someone makes a death threat against you, you should be concerned regardless of who says it,” Arce said.

Lemus’ pretrial is set for Dec. 18 and his bail remains at $1.2 million.