FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge Monday sentenced a Bakersfield man to 15 years in federal prison for hate crimes: firing a sawed-off shotgun and yelling racist slurs at a Latino man.
Oildale resident Justin Cole Whittington, 25, was convicted in December 2016 of interfering with a person’s housing rights because of his race, color, or national origin by use of force or threat of force; use of a firearm during a crime of violence; and making a false statement to a special agent of the FBI.
He already had pleaded guilty to possessing an illegal firearm in the course of the same crime, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
U.S. District Judge David Drozd also ordered Whittington to pay $2,000 in restitution to the victim, calling Whittington’s actions “repugnant criminal conduct.”
“He obstructed justice, he lied, he did everything he could to escape responsibility,” Drozd said, according to the sheriff’s statement.
The sheriff said the victim was standing outside his home with his family when a car slowly drove by and parked in front of a neighbor’s house. The victim did not recognize Whittington, who got out of the passenger seat and shouted a racial slur before firing one round at him from 15 yards away and telling him he needed to leave Oildale. Whittington then jumped back in the car and it drove off,
“Shortly thereafter, the shotgun was fired from the car at a nearby convenience store owned by a man of Middle Eastern descent,” the sheriff said in the statement. “The blast left a large hole in the store’s glass door.”
The victim identified Whittington and the car to sheriff’s officers, who found Whittington and his car near the one described by the victim. Deputies found the sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of Whittington’s Crown Victoria.
The FBI assisted the sheriff’s office in the investigation. According to the 2015 indictment, Whittington lied to FBI agents, telling them the gun belonged to someone named Charlie, who gave him $1,000 to hide it in his car.
Whittington was convicted of making false statements to the FBI.
At trial, the victim testified that he and his family no longer felt safe in their neighborhood and moved as soon as they were financially able.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Thomas Wheeler lambasted Whittington.
“Hate violence has no place in our society. It harms individuals and entire communities by threatening their sense of security and freedom,” he said in a statement.
“The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute hate crimes so that all people, no matter the color of their skin, their country of origin, or how they worship, can live their lives freely and without fear.”
Whittington was not listed as an inmate in any county or federal correctional institution on Monday afternoon, according to inmate searches 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.
Neither the U.S. Attorney’s Office nor the Kern County Sheriff’s Office immediately returned emailed requests for comment Monday.
Oildale, pop. 32,684, is an unincorporated suburb north of Bakersfield and east of Highway 99. Founded in 1909, the 6.5-square-mile working-class area is next to two of the largest oilfields in California. Though predominantly white, Latinos are a growing minority.
According to 2010 Census data, about 17.2 percent of Oildale families and 20.9 percent of households were below the poverty line.
Oildale has a history of racism and violence toward minorities. The Ku Klux Klan once reigned supreme in Kern County, and 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.
Predominantly Republican, Oildale is a glowing red bastion of support for President Donald Trump in an otherwise blue state.