Sunday, May 27, 2018
News Roundup

They waved the Confederate flag and a shotgun at a black child's party. Now they're headed to prison on terrorism charges.

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 around displaying 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 and 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 convenience store.

Then they happened upon a birthday party being held in Douglasville 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 exited the vehicles. The "Respect the Flag" group 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 black pump shotgun at the partygoers, prosecutors said. Several panicked citizens 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 judge said.

"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 their skin."

The judge handed down the final two sentences on Monday. Torres was sentenced 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."

Comments
None injured in Trinity rehab center fire

None injured in Trinity rehab center fire

TRINITY — No one was hurt Sunday morning after a fire broke out at a rehabilitation center.According to Pasco County Fire Rescue, Trinity Regional Rehab Center at 2144 Welbilt Blvd. is running on generator power after the blaze broke out about 10:30 ...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Part of Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard closed through at least 5 p.m.

Part of Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard closed through at least 5 p.m.

Both southbound lanes of Bayshore Boulevard between W. Barcelona and W. Rubideaux streets are closed while the Tampa Water Department repairs a water main break.The repair and roadway restoration work is expected to be completed by 5 p.m. Sunday but ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Meteorologists are calling Alberto a ‘subtropical storm.’ What the heck is that?

Meteorologists are calling Alberto a ‘subtropical storm.’ What the heck is that?

We’re all waking up to the impacts of Alberto: dreary rain, gusty wind, the reluctant change of Memorial Day plans.But while the effects are routine for storm-weathering Floridians, the category of storm Alberto falls into is a little less familiar. ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Temple Terrace applauds progress on downtown project

TEMPLE TERRACE — A round of applause from the audience followed the recent vote by the Temple Terrace City Council to negotiate a contract with a company that plans to build and manage luxury apartments in the long-idle downtown redevelopment area.Th...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Troopers looking for driver in New Port Richey fatal hit-and-run

Troopers looking for driver in New Port Richey fatal hit-and-run

NEW PORT RICHEY — Florida Highway Patrol troopers are looking for a driver who hit and killed a 46-year-old bicyclist then drove from the scene.Shawn Michael Grady, of New Port Richey, was biking south on Rowan Road south of Massachusetts Avenue abou...
Updated: 4 hours ago
FHP: 30-year-old motorcyclist killed in Hudson crash

FHP: 30-year-old motorcyclist killed in Hudson crash

HUDSON — A 30-year-old man died after he was struck by a car and thrown off the motorcycle he was riding.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Derek Fingerle, of Hudson, was traveling south on U.S. 19 in the center lane about 8:20 p.m. Saturday. M...
Updated: 4 hours ago
A wet Memorial Day weekend continues as Alberto treks north

A wet Memorial Day weekend continues as Alberto treks north

Subtropical Storm Alberto continued its trek north-northeast overnight and is expected to make landfall in the northern Gulf Coast late Monday.The storm was about 85 miles north of the Dry Tortugas as of Sunday morning, producing winds up to 40 mph a...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays journal: After Alex Colome trade, Rays’ closer situation is fluid, Kevin Cash says

Rays journal: After Alex Colome trade, Rays’ closer situation is fluid, Kevin Cash says

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have had to get creative in how they start games. Now, after Friday's trade of closer Alex Colome, they might have to get creative in how they finish them.How they handle the ninth inning going forward will be a fluid ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

What in the name of the 0-26 Bucs is going on here?The breathtaking Vegas Golden Knights are the greatest expansion team in professional sports history. They are the best (or worst) thing to ever happen to our games, having won 51 times during the re...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays pitchers Ryne Stanek, Anthony Banda dominate in 5-1 win over Orioles

Rays pitchers Ryne Stanek, Anthony Banda dominate in 5-1 win over Orioles

THE BASEBALL LABORATORY IN ST. PETERSBURG — Up is down. Down is up. Hello is goodbye. Goodbye is hello. A reliever is a starter. A starter is a reliever.These are your 2018 Tampa Bay Rays.You never know what's going to happen. And just when you...
Published: 05/26/18
Updated: 05/27/18