Michigan man pleads guilty to threatening to shoot Black family at church, prosecutors say

Michigan man pleads guilty to threatening to shoot Black family at church, prosecutors say
© Greg Nash

A Michigan man pleaded guilty to targeting an African American woman because of her race and threatening to shoot her family at church last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced this week.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that 22-year-old Ronald Wyatt, whose race was not disclosed, admitted to targeting a woman identified as T.P. and “intentionally threatening physical harm” to her and obstructing her “free exercise of religion.”

Wyatt, who entered his guilty plea in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Wednesday, made the admission as part of a plea agreement, the DOJ said.

According to prosecutors, Wyatt admitted to using Facebook to send the woman a message in July 2019, saying, “See you at church on Wednesday night with my AK to put you and your [expletive] family down [expletive].”

ADVERTISEMENT

The DOJ said T.P. was known to regularly attend a church in Taylor, Mich.

Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s civil rights division, called Wyatt’s actions “reprehensible” in a statement and said the department “takes these matters very seriously and works to ensure that those who perpetrate these actions see justice under the law.”

Steven D’Antuono, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit field office, said, “Hate crimes like this one have profound effects not only on the victims, but also on their families and communities, making them feel vulnerable and unsafe. No arrest or conviction can undo the harm, but will hopefully provide a measure of justice for the victim, her family and her community."

Sentencing will take place next year, the DOJ said, adding that Wyatt faces up to a year in prison.

The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider, said Wyatt’s plea “is the first step towards justice for this innocent victim.”

“Although the First Amendment protects free speech, it doesn’t give anyone the right to obstruct the free exercise of religious beliefs by threatening violence or bodily harm. Prosecuting those who violate the civil rights of Michigan citizens is some of the most important work we do,” he added.

The plea comes amid continued protests against racial injustice across the nation following the police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more Black Americans, as well as the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.