Threats and racial slurs were yelled at African-Americans attending a child's birthday party
Two of the people involved in the 2015 incident are now facing years in prison
A Georgia couple who rode with a Confederate flag-waving group that made armed threats against African-Americans at a child’s birthday party were sentenced to prison Monday.
Jose “Joe” Torres, was sentenced to 20 years, with 13 years in prison, after a jury convicted him on three counts of aggravated assault, one count of making terroristic threats and one count of violating of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Kayla Norton was sentenced to 15 years, with six years in prison. She was convicted on one count of making terroristic threats and one count of violation of the Street Gang Act.
“Many people tried to make the case about simply flying the Confederate Battle Flag,” Douglas County District Attorney Brian Fortner said in a statement. “This case was about a group of people riding around our community, drinking alcohol, harassing and intimidating our citizens because of the color of their skin.”
On July 25, 2015, Torres and Norton, joined about a dozen other people in a convoy of pickup trucks waving large Confederate flags as they drove around Douglas County, a suburban Atlanta community. Most of them belonged to a group called “Respect the Flag.”
“The convoy of trucks passed by the victim’s residence where the victims were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers while hosting a child’s birthday party featuring a bouncy castle, snow-cone machines, and a DJ,” the district attorney’s office posted on its official Facebook page.
The party-goers said the people in the trucks yelled racial slurs as they passed, the statement said.
The drivers parked the trucks near the house, prosecutors said. Torres was part of a smaller group that “threatened to kill the party goers while repeatedly using derogatory racial slurs against them,” said the statement.
“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 statement said.
Norton was accused of making similar threats. The victims said some member of Torres’ group was armed with a knife and a tire tool.
According to the district attorney’s statement, Torres testified he carried the shotgun because he feared for his friends’ safety. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported members of “Respect the Flag” said people at the party had thrown objects at them.
CNN has tried to reach the two defendants’ lawyers for comment.
After the arrests, investigators looked through the defendants’ Facebook accounts, the statement said.
“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,” the DA’s statement said.
Video of Monday’s sentencing shot by WSB-TV, a CNN affiliate, showed both Torres and Norton breaking down in court as Judge William McClain handed down the sentence.
Norton apologized for her role in the incident saying, “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.”
Hyesha Bryant, one of the people at the party, testified at the hearing and told Norton, “What you said affected my life. It affected my children’s lives.”
But Bryant ended up telling Norton that “I forgive you, I forgive all of you.”
‘They have to learn to forgive themselves’
Melissa Alford, who hosted the birthday party, told HLN’s Ashleigh Banfield on Tuesday that she still feels emotional about what happened in 2015, but justice was served.
“I think Judge Beau McClain did what he had to do” at the sentencing, she said. “I know justice was served.”
Like Bryant, Alford was concerned about the lasting impact the day had on the children at the party, but she also has forgiven the defendants.
“Yes, I did forgive them. They have to learn to forgive themselves for their wrongdoing,” Alford said.
For her, offering forgiveness was more about finding peace. “I’m not going around hating anyone.”
She also shared with Banfield that the children who were at the party are still confused.
One of her grandchildren is white, she added. “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?”
A jury convicted Torres and Norton on February 6. They are both banished from Douglas County when they’re released from prison.
Fifteen members of the Respect the Flag group were originally indicted. The disposition of all their cases is unknown, but the district attorney said some of them pleaded guilty to similar charges and received shorter sentences.