Justin Whittington, 24, of Bakersfield, was arrested today charged with 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, unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm, and making a false statement to a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner.
On September 24, 2015, a federal grand jury returned the four-count indictment, which was unsealed after Whittington’s arrest today. According to the indictment, on December 19, 2012, Whittington shouted racist slurs and fired a sawed-off shotgun at a Latino man while the man and his family were standing outside their home in Oildale. The indictment alleges that Whittington took these actions in an attempt to intimidate and interfere with the victim’s occupancy of his home because of the victim’s race, color or national origin.
The indictment further states that Whittington later made false statements to an FBI agent when he falsely claimed that on the evening of the incident, he had been paid by someone to keep the sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of his car.
“The use of racially motivated violence and threats of violence to intimidate persons in connection with their choice of housing is a criminal act,” said United States Attorney Wagner. “Investigating and prosecuting those who violate the civil rights of others will continue to be one of the core missions of this office.”
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian K. Delaney is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Trial Attorney Samantha Trepel of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
If convicted, Whittington faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.