So-called "Patriots". Drunk, and "and pointed a shotgun..." at
Convicted of "Criminal Gang Terrorism".
In July 2015, a group of 15 people calling themselves “Respect
the Flag” boarded several pickup trucks, each outfitted with
Confederate and American flags, and embarked on a drive around
Douglasville, Ga., a small city west of Atlanta.
Tensions concerning the Confederate flag were already high.
Barely a month had passed since Dylann Roof, the avowed white
supremacist who had posed with the Confederate battle flag,
killed nine black Americans at a church in Charleston.
And the small Respect the Flag group went far beyond a display
of Confederate pride.
Hatred, a Georgia judge said during a sentencing Monday,
propelled the group as they descended upon a child’s birthday
party, unleashed a storm of death threats and anti-black slurs,
and pointed a shotgun.
“Their actions were motivated by racial hatred,” said Judge
William McClain, of the Douglas County Superior Court, according
to the Associated Press. Georgia legislature does not include a
law regarding hate crimes.
The 10 men and five women who made up Respect the Flag harassed
black drivers as well as customers at a Walmart and a
Then they happened upon a birthday party for an 8-year-old black
child. Witnesses told the Southern Poverty Law Center, a
nonprofit group that tracks hate crimes, that after driving the
trucks across the property belonging to the child’s grandmother,
the men got out of the vehicles and began to yell racial
epithets and shout death threats.
“They even threatened to kill children at the party,” according
to a statement issued by Douglas County District Attorney Brian
Fortner in early February. One of the men, 26-year-old Jose
Ismael Torres, pointed a pump shotgun at the partygoers,
prosecutors said. Several panicked people called the police.
“Everywhere you went, 911 call centers were flooded with calls,”
the judge said, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“I was scared,” Melissa Alford, the host of the party, told the
Southern Poverty Law Center in October, a few days after the
group’s members were indicted. “My first thought was if these
people start shooting at us, we wouldn’t be able to get all the
kids inside the house in time.”
The defendants in the case argued that a party attendee
triggered the incident by hurling an object at one of the
trucks. Cellphone video taken at the scene showed otherwise, the
“If you drive around town with a Confederate flag, yelling the
n-word, you know how it’s going to be interpreted,” the judge
said, per Atlanta’s Fox 5. “It’s inexplicable to me that you
weren’t arrested by the police that day.”
The members of the group, two of whom pleaded guilty, were
convicted in early February.
Following the convictions, the Douglas County district attorney
issued a statement clarifying that this case was not an issue of
the First Amendment but of harassment.
“Many people tried to make the case about simply flying the
Confederate battle flag. However, it wasn’t about that at all,”
Fortner said in the statement. “Instead, this case was about a
group of people riding around our community, drinking alcohol,
harassing and intimidating our citizens because of the color of
The judge handed down the final two sentences on Monday. Torres
was sentenced to 20 years, serving 13 in prison. The mother of
his children, Kayla Rae Norton, 25, was sentenced to 15 years
and will serve six. After their prison terms, they will be
banished from Douglas County. They were found in violation of
Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act; Norton was found
guilty of violating the act as well as a count of making
terroristic threats. The jury convicted Torres of three counts
of aggravated assault, one count of making terroristic threats
and one count of violating the act.
The scene in the courtroom was an emotional one. Both Torres and
Norton cried as their sentences were announced, the Associated
Press reported. Norton apologized to the victims.
One of the victims, Hyesha Bryant, expressed her forgiveness. “I
forgive you,” Bryant said. “And to your family, I’m sorry it had
to come this far.”