MIAMI — A longtime nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital has been charged in Miami federal court with making threats to kill Vice President Kamala Harris, which she recorded in a series of videos she sent to her husband in prison.
Federal authorities say the threats from Niviane Petit Phelps, a 39-year-old mother of three who lives in Miami Gardens, were serious enough that she practiced at a gun range and applied for a concealed weapons permit.
In the five videos, according to a Secret Service complaint, Phelps expressed rage over the victory of President Joe Biden and Harris. But political anger wasn’t the only motivation, according to the complaint.
Phelps, who is Black, also threatened to kill Harris in the videos because she believes the vice president “isn’t actually Black,” according to the complaint by a Secret Service agent, who spoke with her before her arrest this month. Harris, the first woman to hold the second highest office in the U.S., is Black of South Asian and Jamaican descent.
Phelps was detained Thursday by a Miami federal magistrate judge after she was arrested on a charge of making threats against the vice president. Phelps got caught because she sent the series of threatening videos along with two photographs to her husband, Joseph, who is locked up in state prison after being convicted of a 1996 armed robbery and murder of a grocery store owner.
Phelps’ defense attorney, Scott Saul, told the Miami Herald Friday that he is still reviewing details of the case but said the videos were intended as private conversation with her husband and that federal law required “a true threat” not just “idle talk or a careless remark.”
“Based upon my limited knowledge, I do not think my client was a genuine threat to the vice president. All this case involved was my client venting to her incarcerated husband (where the communications were recorded and then forwarded to law enforcement),” Saul said in an emailed statement to the Herald.
“It appears as though personal issues in her life, along with the volatile political landscape perpetuated by some, brought some frustrations out of her,” he said. “I do not think that there was ever a realistic or imminent threat upon Vice President Kamala Harris.”
For now Phelps, who faces up to five years in prison if convicted, is being held at the Federal Detention Center in Miami because the magistrate judge Thursday found her to be a “danger to the community.”
Phelps is going to lose her job at Jackson Health System, a spokesperson said.
Jackson Health System, where Phelps has been employed for the past 20 years, said she worked most recently as a licensed practical nurse in the Ambulatory Care Center West at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. But the spokesperson said Phelps has been suspended without pay and will be terminated.
According to the Secret Service criminal complaint, Phelps expressed her contempt for the vice president in the five videos and two photos that she made in February.
In a Feb. 13 video, Phelps was recorded saying, “Kamala Harris you are going to die. Your days are numbered,” the complaint says.
In another video dated Feb. 14, Phelps continued to threaten the vice president: “If I see you in the street, I’m gonna kill your ass Kamala Harris,” the complaint says. In yet another video that day, Phelps said, “I’m going to the gun range, just for your ass, until you f--kin’ leave the chair.” She vowed to carry out the threat in 50 days and applied for a concealed weapons permit, according to the complaint.
One of the two photos sent to her husband in prison depicts Phelps smiling as she holds a pistol next to a target containing bullet holes, according to the complaint. The second photograph shows Phelps’ teenage son holding a pistol and a target.
In early March, two Secret Service agents, along with Miami-Dade police detectives, visited Phelps’ home in Miami Gardens to interview her. She was read her Miranda rights, but she refused to talk. A couple of days later, Phelps called one of the Secret Service agents and told him that she had been put on administrative leave at her job with Jackson Health System. She said she wanted to talk.
On March 6, Secret Service Agent Lucas White said he spoke with Phelps at her home about the videos and photos she had sent her to husband in prison.
“Phelps started by saying that she was angry at the time about Kamala Harris becoming vice president, but that she is ‘over it now,’ ’' according to the complaint. “Phelps expressed how she believes Kamala Harris is not actually ‘Black’ and how during [the presidential] inauguration Kamala Harris disrespectfully put her hand on her clutch purse instead of the Bible.”
But Phelps said that now that the presidential election was over, somebody told that she had to put her rage about the vice president aside.
White, the Secret Service agent, then questioned her about making the five videos, which were each 30 seconds long, as well as the two photos.
She told the agent that she went to the gun range to practice because of the unsafe neighborhood in which she lives, the complaint says. When White confronted her about saying in the video that she went to the gun range because of her feelings about Kamala Harris, Phelps replied that “she just does not like her.”
The agent wrapped up the interview, asking if Phelps had plans to go to Washington, D.C. She said no. But Phelps’ daughter, who was in the room, said: “Didn’t we say we were going?”
Phelps immediately responded: “No, we’re not going.”