A California skinhead who twice fired a sawed-off shotgun as an exclamation point to his racial hatred was sentenced this week to 15 years in federal prison.
Justin Cole Whittington, 25, was convicted in December of using force to interfere with a person’s housing rights, use of a firearm during a crime of violence and lying to the FBI. He previously pleaded guilty to illegally possessing the sawed-off shotgun.
Identified in court documents as a member of the Peckerwood skinhead gang, on Dec. 19, 2012 Whittington fired a sawed-off shotgun at a Latino man—a total stranger—standing in his front yard in Oildale, California north of Bakersfield.
“The defendant shouted ‘fucking nigger,’ fired one round toward [the victim] from about fifteen yards away, and yelled ‘get the fuck out of Oildale,’” before driving away, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian K. Delaney wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
The victim “heard pellets fly by his head, and believed for a moment that he had been shot,” the memorandum says, but neither he nor his wife, standing nearby, were hit by the shotgun blast.
“As a result of the shooting, the victim’s family was concerned about their safety, and moved from their home shortly thereafter,” the memo says.
If that wasn’t enough, Whittington then drove to a nearby convenience store owned by a man of Middle Eastern descent and fired the shotgun again, this time without leaving the vehicle.
“The blast left a large hole in the store’s glass door, and circles of missing paint on the metal gate in front of the store,” federal investigators said.
The victim of that attack provided Kern County Sheriff’s deputies with a description of the shooter’s car.
Deputies quickly located Whittington nearby standing outside the car. They recovered a sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of Whittington’s Crown Victoria, which was parked near the car used in the two shootings, authorities said.
“Whittington admitted to law enforcement … that he had been a member of the Oildale Peckerwoods, a white supremacist gang, and has gang tattoos, including a ‘P’ and a ‘W’ on his shins, for the Peckerwoods, and a ‘23’on his stomach symbolizing the 23rd letter of the alphabet—W— for White Power,” the sentencing memo says.
Whittington subsequently made false statements to an FBI agent when questioned about the sawed-off shotgun. He was indicted on federal hate crime charges in September 2015.
Earlier that year, Whittington was arrested when he was caught on a surveillance camera hitting his 3-year-old son in a Bakersfield convenience store. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor child abuse charge.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd of the Eastern District of California sentenced Whittington to 15 years in prison for federal hate crimes—five years less than the sentence recommended by prosecutors.
“The sentence handed down today reflects the seriousness of hate crimes such as this, which cause not only the victims but entire communities to feel vulnerable and unsafe,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A.Talbert.
“Our district is one that is rich in diversity, and my office is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who violate community members’ civil rights through acts of hate and intimidation,” Talbert said.
At the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler said the case demonstrates that “hate violence has no place in our society.”
“It harms individuals and entire communities by threatening their sense of security and freedom,” Wheeler said. “In this case, Whittington fired a shotgun at the victim, terrorizing him and his family, because of his Latino ethnicity. 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.”