Jose "Joe" Torres and Kayla Norton were sentenced for making terrorist threats, aggravated assault, and breaking Georgia's Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
A judge has sentenced a Georgia couple to a combined 19 years in prison after they rode around in pickup trucks and made terroristic threats against African-Americans, including at a child’s birthday party. The incident came in July 2015, less than one month after white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine Black churchgoers in South Carolina.
CNN reported that on Feb. 27, 2017, 26-year-old Jose “Joe” Torres received a sentence of 20 years (13 in prison) for three counts of aggravated assault, one count of terroristic threats, and one count of breaking Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
His girlfriend, Kayla Norton, 25, received a sentence of 15 years (six in prison) for one count of terroristic threats and one count of breaking the Street Gang Act. Judge William McClain called their actions a hate crime.
The pair were involved with a group called Respect the Flag. Members rode around the south Atlanta suburbs in a large convoy while displaying Confederate flags and yelling racial slurs.
Eventually, “the convoy of trucks passed by the victim’s residence where the victims were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers while hosting a child’s birthday party featuring a bouncy castle, snow-cone machines, and a DJ,” the Douglas County District Attorney’s said.
Convoy participants got out of their trucks and confronted the victims on foot with weapons including a knife, a tire iron, and shotguns. According to the statement, this is when Torres “threatened to kill the party goers while repeatedly using derogatory racial slurs against them.”
“Torres, who had retrieved a shotgun from his vehicle, pointed his shotgun at the group of African-American party-goers and stated he was going to kill them while his co-defendants stated that ‘the little ones can get one too,’ referring to the young children at the party,” said the statement.
Norton yelled similar threats at the victims as well.
At this point, party guests began to flee the scene and call 911. When police arrived, they found a shotgun in Torres’ vehicle matching the description given in the 911 call. Later, police investigated Norton and Torres’ online activities as well.
“Law enforcement was able to locate numerous posts and messages [on Facebook] indicating that members of the group were white supremacists who discussed attending KKK rallies, joining Skinheads Nation, and making numerous derogatory remarks about African Americans as a whole,” despite the pair’s professions of innocence in court, the District Attorney’s statement says.
The District Attorney was also careful to point out that the sentences did not have to do with displaying the Confederate flag but are instead directly linked to the racist harassment and threats of violence the group directed at a child’s birthday party.
“Many people tried to make the case about simply flying the Confederate Battle Flag,” Douglas County District Attorney Brian Fortner said in the statement. “This case was about a group of people riding around our community, drinking alcohol, harassing and intimidating our citizens because of the color of their skin.”
In court, both Torres and Norton cried, and Norton tearfully said, “I want you all to know that is not me. That is not me, that is not him. I would never walk up to you and say those words to you. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I am so sorry.”
Hesha Bryant, a mother who was at the party with her kids, used her testimony to speak directly to Norton, saying, “What you said affected my life. It affected my children’s lives.”
However, Bryant concluded her statement with incredible grace, saying, “I forgive you, I forgive all of you.”
Melissa Alford, the grandmother who hosted the 2015 birthday party, told HLN, “I think Judge McClain did what he had to do” at the sentencing, she said. “I know justice was served.”
While Alford also expressed forgiveness toward Torres and Norton for their acts of racist terrorism, she too noted the impact the incident had on all the people present, especially the young children. She went on to say that two years later, the kids who were at the party are still confused and scared.
She went on to mention that one of her grandchildren is white. “How am I supposed to explain the difference between white and black when she doesn’t see that. How are the other kids supposed to explain?”
Ten men and five women belonging to the “Respect the Flag” group were indicted for the incident, including Tommy Summers who was sentenced to four years and Lacey Henderson who was sentenced to two years. The other members of the group were sentenced for misdemeanors or put into diversion programs.
Meanwhile, Norton and Torres are banished from Douglas County for life.
Next, learn about how one Black man has convinced 200 people to leave the KKK. Then, read the story of how civil rights hero John Lewis went from Freedom Rider to Congressman.