Bakersfield Man Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Hate Crime
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd sentenced a Bakersfield man to 15 years in prison today for federal hate crimes for firing a shotgun while yelling racist slurs at a Latino man, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, Thomas Wheeler, and U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
Justin Cole Whittington, 25, was convicted in December 2016 of interfering with a person’s housing rights because of his race, color, or national origin by use of force or threat of force; use of a firearm during a crime of violence; and making a false statement to a special agent of the FBI. Whittington had earlier pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm in connection to the same crime.
Judge Drozd also ordered Whittington to pay $2,000 in restitution to the victim and called the defendant’s actions: “Reprehensible conduct that’s had a significant impact on [the victim’s family] — outrageous, repugnant criminal conduct. He obstructed justice, he lied, he did everything he could to escape responsibility.”
According to court documents, on December 19, 2012, the victim, a Latino man, was standing in his front yard with his wife and son when a car drove past slowly and came to a stop in front of his neighbor’s house. The victim thought this was unusual and paid close attention to the car. Whittington, whom the victim had never seen before, got out of the front passenger seat of the car holding a sawed-off shotgun. Whittington used profanity and shouted a racial epithet as he fired one round toward the victim from about 15 yards away, and yelled that the victim should move out of Oildale. Whittington got back into the car and it drove away. Shortly thereafter, the shotgun was fired from the car at a nearby convenience store owned by a man of Middle Eastern descent. The blast left a large hole in the store’s glass door, and circles of missing paint on the metal gate in front of the store.
According to evidence presented at trial, the victim was able to describe Whittington and the car to Kern County Sheriff’s deputies, and they found Whittington nearby standing outside the car. The deputies recovered a sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of Whittington’s Crown Victoria, which was parked near the car identified by the victim.
Whittington was also found guilty of making false statements to an FBI agent when he falsely claimed that on the evening of the incident, he had been paid by someone to keep the sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of his car.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, the victim and his family no longer felt safe in their home, and as soon as they had the financial means to do so, they moved from the neighborhood.
“Hate violence has no place in our society. It harms individuals and entire communities by threatening their sense of security and freedom,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wheeler. “In this case, Whittington fired a shotgun at the victim, terrorizing him and his family, because of his Latino ethnicity. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute hate crimes so that all people, no matter the color of their skin, their country of origin, or how they worship, can live their lives freely and without fear.”
U.S. Attorney Talbert stated: “The sentence handed down today reflects the seriousness of hate crimes such as this, which cause not only the victims but entire communities to feel vulnerable and unsafe. Our district is one that is rich in diversity, and my office is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who violate community members’ civil rights through acts of hate and intimidation.”
“The FBI works closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure thorough investigation of allegations of hate crimes in the communities we serve and protect,” said Special Agent in Charge Monica M. Miller of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Sacramento field office. “Whittington’s threats and intimidation of his neighbors were despicable acts and not reflective of the America we all want to live in.”
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood stated: “The Kern County Sheriff's Office will continue to work with our federal partners in investigating all hate crimes. I realize that these type of crimes reverberate through a community and cause fear to our community members. Violation of people’s civil rights impact all of us and will not be tolerated.”
This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian K. Delaney prosecuted the case with the assistance of Trial Attorney Samantha Trepel of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.