Michigan Man Pleads Guilty to Using Threats to Obstruct Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs
September 23, 2020
The Justice Department today announced that Ronald Wyatt, 22, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to intentionally threatening physical harm to a female victim, T.P., to obstruct T.P.’s free exercise of religion. As part of his plea agreement, Wyatt admitted that he targeted T.P., who is African-American, because of her race.
At the plea hearing, Wyatt admitted that, on July 23, 2019, he used Facebook to send T.P. a written message that threatened: “See you at church on Wednesday night with my AK to put you and your [expletive] family down [expletive].” T.P. regularly attends a church located in Taylor, Michigan. Wyatt admitted that, by sending the threatening message, he acted intentionally to obstruct T.P.’s free exercise of her religious beliefs. Wyatt further admitted that he threatened T.P. because she is African-American, and that he intended for T.P. to understand his message as a threat.
“No American should face threats towards their life or the lives of their loved ones based on their race or religion” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “These actions are reprehensible. The Justice Department takes these matters very seriously and works to ensure that those who perpetrate these actions see justice under the law.”
“The defendant’s actions in this case are truly reprehensible,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider of the Eastern District of Michigan. “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. This plea today is the first step towards justice for this innocent victim.”
“Mr. Wyatt used threats of violence to terrorize an innocent woman and as a result hindered the victim’s ability to freely practice her religion,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono, of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office. “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.”
Pursuant to the plea agreement, sentencing will take place in one year. He faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Detroit Field Office and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances Carlson, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, and Trial Attorney Risa Berkower, of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.