A Georgia couple has been sentenced to prison time after a 2015 incident in which they made threats and used racial slurs against Black attendees at a child’s birthday party.
In July 2015 Jose Torres, 26, and Kayla Norton, 25, and other members of a group called “Respect the Flag” drove around Douglas County and Paulding County, Ga., waving Confederate flags and making racist comments and threats to Blacks in the community. The group eventually reached an outdoor child’s birthday party with predominantly Black attendees in Douglasville.
According to a post on the official Facebook page for the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, “Victims and witnesses from the party, who were predominantly African American, testified to observing the group of trucks whose passengers were hurling a litany of racial slurs at them as they passed by.”
“Torres, who had retrieved a shotgun from his vehicle, pointed his shotgun at the group of African American party goers and stated he was going to kill them while his co-Defendants stated that ‘the little ones can get one too,’ referring to the young children at the party,” the post reads. “Victims also indicated the Defendants had other weapons on them at the time including a knife and a tire iron.”
Witnesses stated that Norton got Torres’ shotgun handedit to him. Members of the group approached partygoers, shouted racial slurs and threatened to kill them.
Torres and Norton were both found guilty of making terroristic threats and violating the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act, which protects Georgia residents “from fear, intimidation, and physical harm caused by the activities of violent groups and individuals.” Torres was convicted of an additional charge of aggravated assault. Torres received 13 years in prison and seven years’ probation. Norton received six years in prison and nine years of probation.
Norton reportedly broke down and addressed some of the victims present in the room: “I want you all to know that is not me. That is not me, that is not him. I would never walk up to you and say those words to you. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I am so sorry.”
According to the Atlantic Journal-Constitution, Superior Court Judge William “Beau” McClain said just before announcing the sentences, “Many good people in Paulding County saw you for what you are.”
McClain also quoted one of the many people who called 911 that day that said: “‘I want to report a hate crime.'”
“Their actions were motivated by racial hatred,” McClain, who called the incident a hate crime, said. Georgia does not have a law on the books to specify hate crimes.
Additionally, McClain said Norton and Torres are both banned from entering Douglas County after their prison terms end.
After the incident, the Douglasville Police Department investigated the Respect the Flag group on Facebook and found a history of racism:
“Following a review of over 10,000 pages of Facebook documents, law enforcement was able to locate numerous posts and messages indicating that members of the group were white supremacists who discussed attending KKK rallies, joining Skinheads Nation, and making numerous derogatory remarks about African Americans as a whole.”
Hyesha Bryant, 34, was one of the party’s attendees. She addressed Norton and Torres in the courtroom.
“I never thought this would be something I’d have to endure in 2017,” she said. “As adults and parents, we have to instill in our children the values of right and wrong. That moment you had to choose to leave, you stayed.”
However, she expressed forgiveness to the couple.
“I don’t have any hate in my heart,” she said. “Life is too short for that.”
Melissa Alford, who hosted the party, also reported that she forgives the defendants: “Yes, I did forgive them. They have to learn to forgive themselves for their wrongdoing.”
However, she said that children who attended the party are still confused about the day’s events. Referring to one of her grandchildren who is white, she said, “How am I supposed to explain the difference between white and black when she doesn’t see that. How are the other kids supposed to explain”