A 40-year-old convicted car thief was charged Friday with vandalizing a mosque in Westminster.

Ernest Martinez of Santa Ana, who was released from jail March 26 following a plea deal on multiple cases, was accused of damaging the Al-Noor Foundation mosque at 14522 Goldenwest St. with paint on Wednesday, according to jail records and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

A mosque employee claimed to see Martinez try to break a window in the mosque, prosecutors said. Martinez also allegedly struck the front door with a gallon-sized paint can before splashing paint onto a window.

A Westminster officer who arrested Martinez near the mosque said the suspect told him the mosque’s god “disrespected” his own, prosecutors alleged.

Martinez pleaded not guilty to felony counts of vandalism and vandalism of a place of worship for purposes of intimidation with a sentencing enhancement for a hate crime and a misdemeanor count of violation of civil rights with property damage at his arraignment in the jail courtroom in Santa Ana and was ordered to return to court April 15 in the West Justice Center in Westminster for a pretrial hearing.

On Oct. 12, Martinez resolved three separate cases with plea deals and was sentenced to two years in prison, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to stealing a car and bringing drugs into jail in November 2020 and stealing a car and leading police on a chase in December 2020, according to court records.

“Houses of worship are sacred places that should be safe havens from hate and violence,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement. “Today, Muslims across the world begin celebrating Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer and reflection. Those celebrations must be able to go on uninterrupted and without the fear of someone trying to deface a house of worship. No one has the right to take that serenity from another person and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office will do everything we can to hold haters accountable and protect the rights of everyone to worship in peace.”

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