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What led to Charlottesville 'gratata' social media star's arrest?

In those earliest Sunday-night moments as people in and around the University of Virginia were gripped by the terrifying news that a homicidal gunman was on the loose, some social media networks veered in the direction not of the eventual suspect but toward a Charlottesville-based social media phenomenon named Bryan Michael Silva, also known as the “gratata” guy.

That’s because, just six hours before the shooting that killed three student-athletes and injured two other students, Silva, 31, posted statements on social media vowing to impose “pain and suffering” on UVA.

Later, less than a day after the shooting, Silva was arrested when a search warrant allegedly turned up drugs and weaponry at his rented Downtown Mall office.

“CPD does not believe at this time Mr. Silva’s threats were related to the tragic events that occurred last night at the University of Virginia,” read a police release. “However, we understand the fear this caused in our community and acted swiftly to resolve this investigation.”

Silva is no stranger to the CPD. In January, 2016, he barricaded himself in a Jefferson Park Avenue-area apartment after pointing a gun at a 17-year-old girlfriend whom he’d met online. During the barricade, which shut down JPA for about nine hours, Silva spent the time recording— and posting— videos. He later pleaded guilty to two charges, including brandishing a firearm and, according to court records, served nearly two years in jail.

A knack for the racy

Silva’s flirtation with fame began about eight years ago after he uploaded a six-second video to the now-defunct Vine platform. There, shirtless and gunless, he recites a violent rhyme and points a finger pantomiming a handgun toward a bathroom mirror and says “gratata,” a phonetic representation of a machine gun.

Although incessantly mocked, including for his appearance on the popular “Tosh.0” show, Silva embraced his internet fame and now includes his “gratata” catchphrase in most of his social media channels which typically mix sex, weapons and male bravado. On Facebook, where he has 751,000 followers, Silva’s recent postings include videos of him caressing cash, bullets, and his own genitals. Two months before his most recent arrest, at @GRATATATheGREAT on Twitter, he posted video of himself in an explicit sexual act.

“Watch me f**k,” he urged his 26,500 Twitter followers as he touted his pornography channel.

But it was his Facebook posting at 4:13 p.m. on November 13, six hours before another man turned a gun on five UVa students, that would eventually compound widespread grief with outrage.

“I want u v a to know what pain and suffering is,” Silva wrote. “They put me through that everyday of my life here and laughed in my face. I want them to feel how I feel. I will sell everything I have to make that pain and suffering happen.”

A nurse has enough

UVa nurse Lisa C. Turner was up late Sunday night after driving home to the Shenandoah Valley after her shift. Like countless others, she was grieving the slaughter of three football players on a bus on Culbreth Road. And then she saw Silva’s post about UVa— as well as news of others in which he’s wielding firearms. And she learned of his prior criminal convictions.

“I went to his page and saw the guns and stacks of ammo,” said Turner. “How does this person still have access to guns?”

As several others did, Turner tagged local police as a comment underneath Silva’s Facebook post.

“Go girl,” wrote another Facebook user lauding Turner’s action. “Nip that bud from the root.”

Many were asking the same question as Turner: How can a convicted felon be allowed to possess guns or ammunition?

Under state law, he can’t.

The next afternoon, police broke down the door of an office Silva was renting on the Downtown Mall to serve a search warrant and arrested him. They charged him with possession of firearms or ammunition by a convicted felon and with possession of a controlled substance.

Police say the arrest happened around 4 p.m. Monday and that they also served an outstanding/active protective order issued by the Albemarle County General District Court.

They did not specify the nature of that protective order, but Charlottesville court records show that Silva pleaded guilty in June to stalking a UVa student. The student asserted that Silva, a stranger, twice attempted to enter her West Main Street apartment without invitation. The records indicate that he was sentenced to a four-month jail sentence and ordered to pay $89 in court costs. The records also indicate that his financial obligation was not met.

When arrested on this stalking charge, Silva described his work as “social media” and noted $8,000 in monthly income. The stalking victim noted that Silva appeared once in her building’s parking lot driving a Porsche and another time in a BMW.

At the time of his most recent arrest, Silva was separately facing arrest for failure to appear in court in Bridgeport, Connecticut. There, he faces an earlier stalking charge as well as a charge of failure to appear.

Keeping the streets safe

Silva’s most recent arrest came just a day before he was to appear in Charlottesville General District Court on a civil matter. In that case, he signed a lease for his Downtown Mall office space on August 30. Nine days later, the landlord sent him a certified letter seeking his eviction.

The landlord, the Joe H. Gieck Trust, alleged that Silva failed to obtain insurance, failed to return a key to an office that he did not rent, and repeatedly parked vehicles on the premises in contravention of his lease agreement.

The day after his arrest, the door to that second-floor office at 223 W. Main Street still bore evidence of the police incursion: a deep crack in its wooden face as well as trim damage. Coincidentally, this building houses Lucky Blue’s, a pedestrian mall-level restaurant/bar where a salvo of gunfire erupted on October 23 that resulted in a homicide, which remains unsolved.

Scott Goodman, the attorney who represented Silva in his local stalking charge, says that police needed to get his former client off the street after a spate of local slayings, including those of the UVa football players.

“It’s obvious that the arrest of Mr. Silva is no coincidence,” said Goodman. “This serves the goal of law enforcement to get an individual off the street who may in some way be a threat to public safety.”

Goodman notes that UVa has been scrutinized for failing to prevent the actions of Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., the UVa murder suspect. At a Monday morning press conference, UVa Police chief Tim Longo acknowledged several concerns: that Jones may have boasted of having a gun, that he was convicted for carrying a concealed weapon, and that he failed to disclose that conviction as required by university rules.

“You could tell from the press conference that the police wish they had done something about Mr. Jones,” said Goodman.

The attorney notes that Silva— being held without bond at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail— faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the two new charges, neither of which directly relate to what he wrote on Facebook.

“The police feel this is an individual they want to get off the street, and they don’t want to be second-guessed a second time,” said Goodman.

“They legitimately consider him dangerous,” continued Goodman. “It’s aggressive policing, but it’s absolutely legitimate.”


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