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Musk blamed a Twitter account for an alleged stalker. Police see no link.

Twitter owner Elon Musk threatened legal action, changed the platform’s rules and suspended journalists’ accounts after a confrontation involving his security team at a gas station. But the incident’s timing and location cast doubt on a link to the @ElonJet account.

Elon Musk in Germany in March. (Christian Marquardt/Pool/Getty Images)
9 min

LOS ANGELES — A confrontation between a member of Elon Musk’s security team and an alleged stalker that Musk blamed on a Twitter account that tracked his jet took place at a gas station 26 miles from Los Angeles International Airport and 23 hours after the @ElonJet account had last located the jet’s whereabouts.

The timing and location of the confrontation cast doubt on Musk’s assertion that the account had posted real-time “assassination coordinates” that threatened his family and led to the confrontation. Police have said little about the incident but say they’ve yet to find a link between the confrontation and the jet-tracking account.

The incident last week triggered a major rewrite of Twitter’s rules and the suspensions of a half dozen journalists’ accounts, which were condemned by free-speech advocates. It also underscored how Musk’s personal concerns can influence his governance of a social media platform used by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

On Dec. 15, Twitter suspended the accounts of several prominent journalists, including Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell. (Video: Reuters)

As the sole owner of Twitter, Musk can dictate policies as he chooses. Musk disbanded Twitter’s board of directors, which at other companies might have influenced the company’s reaction to the incident, as well as its long-standing “trust and safety” committee that had advised the social media platform on its policies. No executive at Twitter has the stature to balance Musk’s directives.

The incident occurred in South Pasadena, a Los Angeles suburb, on Tuesday at about 9:45 p.m. South Pasadena police were called to the gas station, according to the business’s manager, but made no arrests. South Pasadena police have not responded to requests for comment.

The Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement Thursday that its Threat Management Unit was in contact with Musk’s representatives and security team but that no crime reports had been filed. Police did not respond to requests for updates on Sunday.

Using a video of the incident that Musk posted to Twitter, The Washington Post identified the owner of the car involved and then the driver shown in the video who had rented it through the car-sharing service Turo.

The car’s renter, Brandon Collado, confirmed in interviews with The Post that he was the person shown in the video. He also provided The Post with videos he shot of Musk’s security guard that matched the one Musk had posted to Twitter.

In his conversations with The Post, Collado acknowledged he has an interest in Musk and the mother of two of Musk’s children, the musician known as Grimes, whose real name is Claire Elise Boucher. Boucher lives in a house near the gas station.

In his communications with The Post, Collado, who said he was a driver for Uber Eats, also made several bizarre and unsupported claims, including that he believed Boucher was sending him coded messages through her Instagram posts; that Musk was monitoring his real-time location; and that Musk could control Uber Eats to block him from receiving delivery orders. He said he was in Boucher’s neighborhood to work for Uber Eats.

Musk did not respond to emailed and tweeted requests from The Post to discuss the incident. Boucher did not respond to requests for comment.

Due to its concentration of high-profile figures, stalking is a pervasive problem in Los Angeles. After 21-year-old actress Rebecca Schaeffer was shot to death at the entrance to her Los Angeles home in 1989 by an obsessive fan, the city adopted several measures meant to protect targets of stalking, such as restrictions on public access to address information from California driving records and a specialized police unit focused on the problem.

However, in 2015, actress and singer Selena Gomez was forced to move out of her $4.5 million home due to a relentless stalker. Actress Sandra Bullock recently opened up about the trauma and PTSD she experienced after a stalker broke into her home in 2014. In 2012, a man accused of stalking actress Halle Berry was sentenced to over a year in jail.

Boucher, too, has been the target of stalking. In 2018, she was granted a restraining order against a man named Raymond Barrajas after he showed up at her home and said he believed she was secretly communicating with him through her music.

Marc Madero, a Los Angeles police detective with the unit that investigates high-profile stalking cases, told The Post the unit has investigated a man who was accused of stalking Boucher. After the confrontation in the gas station, Musk’s security team alerted the police, who began investigating whether the man in the video was the same alleged stalker, Madero said. He said the unit had yet to make a determination and continues to investigate.

Madero said the video of the man suggested he had taken efforts to hide his identity, including wearing gloves and partially covering his face. But he said his unit had no evidence to suggest the man police were investigating had used the jet-tracking account. He noted that stalkers commonly use “open-source searches of a targeted individual,” adding, “Nothing would surprise me.”

Musk tweeted Thursday that journalists had been “aware of the violent stalker and yet still doxed the real-time location of my family.” He did not say which journalists he was referring to or provide evidence. The Post was unaware of the incident until Musk tweeted about it. A review of the internet found no news accounts about a stalker. A volunteer with the investigative journalism group Bellingcat used the video Musk posted to locate the incident to the gas station.

Musk’s jet landed in Los Angeles last Monday, Dec. 12, following a flight from Oakland, the @ElonJet account said, citing flight information, known as ADS-B data, that is legally and routinely gathered by aviation hobbyists and posted to public websites such as ADS-B Exchange.

Musk had been in San Francisco the previous night, getting booed onstage at Dave Chappelle’s comedy show. Three days earlier, he had posted another photo from San Francisco of his 2-year-old son, X Æ A-Xii, whom Musk refers to as “X.”

The incident took place at the gas station on Tuesday, Dec. 13, approximately 15 minutes before the station closed, according to its manager, Daniel Santiago, who was working that night. Santiago said he was surprised when the car Collado was driving pulled into the Arco station and into the space next to Santiago’s car, which is not a normal location for a customer to park.

He said the incident was caught on the gas station’s security camera and that footage had been turned over to the South Pasadena police on Thursday.

According to the video of the incident that Musk posted, the member of Musk’s security team confronted Collado sitting in the car wearing gloves and a hood. “Yeah, pretty sure. Got you,” the Musk security team member can be heard saying on the video.

What took place between the two men before they arrived at the gas station is unknown. There’s no indication in videos shared with The Post that Musk’s children were present.

Collado claimed he was making Uber Eats deliveries and visiting a friend when he pulled into the gas station and said Musk’s security worker then confronted him without reason. Collado said he believed that Musk was monitoring his real-time location.

Two videos of the altercation Collado shared with The Post show him exiting his rental car and standing in front of a Toyota driven by Musk’s security worker.

Shortly after the incident, officers with the South Pasadena police arrived at the gas station, questioned Collado and told him they’d file a report, Collado said.

On Saturday, Collado tweeted at Musk, “I am the guy in this video … You have connections to me and have stalked me and my family for over a year.” Collado said he had not been contacted by the police since Tuesday night.

After the gas-station incident, Twitter changed its rules to ban the sharing of all “live location information,” including links to other websites that noted “travel routes, actual physical location or other identifying information that would reveal a person’s location, regardless if this information is publicly available.”

It also suspended @ElonJet, its operator, Jack Sweeney, and dozens of his other jet-tracking accounts, which monitored the public movements of sports teams, political figures and Russian oligarchs.

Twitter also suspended journalists from The Post, the New York Times, CNN and other news organizations who were covering the @ElonJet suspensions. Two former employees in contact with Twitter staff told The Post that the suspensions were at one time marked “direction of Elon.”

Musk representatives have previously asked the Federal Aviation Administration to limit the sharing of certain flight records, using a program known as Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed. But such requests do not prevent the transmission of ADS-B data, which come from unencrypted signals that are broadcast from the planes, and which anyone with the proper equipment can receive from the ground.

On Sunday, Musk posted videos showing he was attending the World Cup championship game in Qatar. When some in the stands shared photos showing Musk in attendance, Twitter users noted that the details could be classified as real-time location information, like the kind Musk had labeled “assassination coordinates,” and were no longer allowed.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.