A judge sentenced two people to lengthy prison terms on Monday for disrupting an 8-year-old black girl’s birthday party in 2015 by using racial slurs, showing the Confederate flag and making armed threats.
According to court testimony, Kayla Rae Norton, 25, and Jose Ismael Torres, 26, were acting as part of a group that called themselves “Respect the Flag.” On July 24 and 25, 2015, the group rode through Douglaston, Georgia, in pickup trucks that were flying American, military and Confederate flags. Several of them were brandishing guns.
Prosecutors said that the group threatened black motorists and walked up to one of their cars with a gun. They also threatened black shoppers at a convenience store and a Wal-Mart.
At some point, Norton and Torres confronted a black family that was throwing an 8-year-old’s birthday party in the front yard of their home. Prosecutors say that Norton and Torres started using menacing language.
“They repeatedly yelled death threats saying they were going to killing all the n—–,” Assistant District Attorney David Emadi said in court. Some members pointed guns at the group.
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Norton and Torres were charged with aggravated assault, making terroristic treats and violating the Georgia Street Gang Act. They were found guilty earlier this month.
Prosecutors acknowledge that Norton was not one of riders who pointed shotguns at the group, but prosecutors say that she hurled menacing threats while yelling a racial epithet.
On Monday morning, judge William McClain sentenced Torres to 20 years in jail, with a mandatory minimum of 13 years. Norton was sentenced to 15 years, with a minimum of six to serve.
As he sentenced the duo, judge McClain castigated them for their behavior. “If you drive around town with a Confederate flag, yelling the N-word, you know how it’s going to be interpreted,” he said. “It’s inexplicable to me that you weren’t arrested by the police that day.”
Before sentencing, Norton spoke directly to the family members who were at the party.
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“What happened to you was horrible,” she said, as she wiped away tears. “Mother-to-mother, I can’t imagine what it was like to explain what that word means to a child. I accept responsibility for what I did, but that was not me.”
Hyesha Bryant, who was with her 3 children at the party, accepted the apology.
“I forgive you. I forgive all of you,” Bryant said as Norton and Torres wept. “I am not a mean spirited person and I’m sorry for your family that it had to come this far.”
As he handed down the sentence, Judge McClain noted the timing of the incident “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happened one month after the Charleston shooting,” he said, referencing the mass shooting of nine black people inside Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“I suppose Confederate flags can be interpreted different ways and in different context. But if you’re driving around waving Confederate flags and using the N-word everywhere you go, then there’s only one way to interpret that.”