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YouTube personality files lawsuit over bizarre shooting outside synagogue

James Queally, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- A YouTube personality who was shot during a strange clash outside a West Los Angeles synagogue last month has filed a civil lawsuit against the security guard who opened fire and his employers, accusing them of assault, false imprisonment and discriminating against her because she is transgender, according to court documents.

Zhoie Perez, 45, was filming outside the Etz Jacob Congregation/Ohel Chana High School building in Los Angeles' Fairfax district on Feb. 14 when she became involved in an altercation with security guard Edduin Zelayagrunfeld.

Videos Perez posted to her YouTube channel, where she is better known as "Furry Potato," show the 44-year-old guard repeatedly telling Perez to leave the area and constantly moving his hand toward his firearm, even though she was standing on a public sidewalk.

At one point in the video, Zelayagrunfeld threatened to shoot Perez if she did not move away from an entrance. The guard appeared to have his weapon pointed toward the ground when a gunshot is heard in the video.

In the suit filed Wednesday, Perez accused the guard, the high school and the Etz Jacob Torah Center of assault, false imprisonment, negligence and discrimination. The suit repeatedly points out that Perez -- a self-described "First Amendment auditor" whose videos center on reaffirming her right to film in public, sometimes with confrontational results -- had remained peaceful and on a public sidewalk despite the guard's hostile actions.

"Following plaintiff's lawful recording of the interaction, defendant (Zelayagrunfeld) became belligerent and without provocation, justification, or reason began to harass, intimidate, coerce, and threaten plaintiff with deadly force, including without limitation, repeatedly pointing his finger and gun at plaintiff's face, yelling at and threatening to shoot plaintiff," the suit read.

Perez suffered what she described as a "deep graze" and was treated and released within hours of the clash. Zelayagrunfeld was initially arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, though prosecutors asked the Los Angeles Police Department to conduct a deeper investigation into the incident before they make a filing decision.

Paul Eakins, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said Wednesday that the case remains under review. The LAPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Attempts to contact Zelayagrunfeld have been unsuccessful. An employee who answered the phone at the Torah Center referred questions to the LAPD and could not provide the name of an attorney for the congregation. A woman at the high school hung up the phone when contacted by a Los Angeles Times reporter Wednesday.

On her YouTube channel, Perez seems to repeatedly prod at the edges of busy or popular locations around Los Angeles in her videos, sparking interactions that start out playfully confrontational, but can sometimes grow tense.

Late last year, Perez posted a video from outside the Islamic Center of Southern California in Koreatown. She was pepper-sprayed by a security guard. The LAPD also responded to that scene, and Perez said she was on a public sidewalk when the guard sprayed her.

The February clash outside the synagogue stoked concern in the neighborhood in the wake of a rise in anti-Semitic crimes across the nation. Late last year, a Seattle man was accused of trying to run two men over outside a Los Angeles synagogue while yelling slurs in what prosecutors have termed a hate-motivated attack.

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