Calif. Man Facing Federal Hate Crime Charges

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – Federal prosecutors have indicted a white man on suspicion of hurling racial slurs and pointing a sawed-off shotgun at a Latino man standing outside his own house.
     Oildale resident Justin Whittington, 24, was indicted on charges of interfering with housing rights and use of a firearm during a violent crime in Fresno Federal Court on Sept. 24. The indictment was unsealed following Whittington’s arrest on Sept. 28.
     A federal grand jury returned the four-count indictment accusing Whittington of intimidating a Latino man on Dec. 19, 2012, “because of his race, color, and national origin and because he was occupying a dwelling.”
     “Specifically, Whittington, while shouting racist slurs at J.N., fired a shotgun while J.N. and his family were standing outside their home,” the indictment continues.
     Whittington has also been charged with possessing an illegal firearm – an unregistered sawed-off shotgun with a barrel under 18 inches long – and lying to federal agents.
     He allegedly told the FBI that the shotgun belonged to someone named “Charlie,” whom Whittington claimed had given him $1,000 to keep the gun in the trunk of his car, according to the indictment.
     The FBI and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office joined in the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Delaney is prosecuting the case alongside trial attorney Samantha Trepel with the DOJ’s civil rights division.
     U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner decried the incident as a “hate crime.”
     “The use of racially motivated violence and threats of violence to intimidate persons in connection with their choice of housing is a criminal act,” he said in a statement.
     “Investigating and prosecuting those who violate the civil rights of others will continue to be one of the core missions of this office.”
     If convicted, Whittington faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the Justice Department said.
     He was not listed as an inmate in any county or federal correctional institution as of Tuesday afternoon, according to inmate searches done on the California Department of Corrections website, sites for the Kern and Fresno County sheriff’s departments, and the website for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
     The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to offer further comment.
     Whittington was the cause of another controversy in April when convenience store surveillance footage captured him punching his young son, sending the child sprawling to the ground. In the video, Whittington then yanked up the crying boy by the arm and handed him off to a woman, who took him outside.
     He was arrested on one felony count of willful cruelty to a child and booked for $1 million bail.
     On Sept. 11, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor child abuse and was sentenced to four years of probation and four days in jail, which he had already served, according to coverage by ABC affilliate KERO 23.
     Oildale, population 32,684, is an unincorporated suburb north of Bakersfield and east of Highway 99. Founded in 1909, it is adjacent to two of the largest oil fields in the Kern County. Its racial makeup is mostly white with a growing minority of Hispanics and small percentages of other racial and ethnic groups.
     The town is no stranger to racism. Dust Bowl migrants from Arkansas and Oklahoma who came to the county seeking work in the oil fields and railroad industry banded together against racial minorities to create a sense of solidarity in their new communities, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
     Until the early 1960s, there was a sign above the only bridge connecting Oildale with Bakersfield that warned African Americans not to enter the town after sunset.

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