A suburban Seattle man was sentenced Friday to two years in federal prison for threatening to shoot Black customers at grocery stores in Buffalo, New York, and at businesses in other states.
Joey George of Lynnwood pleaded guilty in November to making interstate threats and the hate crime of interference with a federally protected activity, The Daily Herald reported.
As part of a plea agreement George admitted he made phone calls threatening to shoot Black customers at grocery stores in Buffalo, restaurants in California and Connecticut, and a marijuana dispensary in Maryland.
According to the plea agreement, George started making calls in July — telling staff at one store to "take him seriously" as he was "preparing to shoot all Black customers." One store closed.
In May, a man massacred 10 Black shoppers and employees and hurt several others at Tops Friendly Supermarket in Buffalo. A 19-year-old white man, Payton Gendron, has pleaded guilty to murder and hate-motivated terrorism charges, guaranteeing he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
George did not call the same store but referenced it in threats, prosecutors said.
His calls to businesses in other states also involved threats to Black people and in one case, Hispanic people, prosecutors said.
"What he did in this case was deplorable," Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Woods said at sentencing Friday.
George’s public defender, Mohammad Hamoudi, said his client has autism and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after a traumatic, abusive childhood that caused him to disassociate from reality.
While at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, George has been seeing a psychologist, Hamoudi said.
In court Friday, George said he regrets his actions.
"What I did was wrong, and there is no excuse," he said. "And I feel bad for the people that I scared."
U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez sentenced George to two years, the middle of the sentencing guidelines range. He called George’s actions "nothing other than terrorizing to the victims on the other end of those calls."
Martinez also said the case shows the need for more mental health care.
"The fact that intellectually disabled people with severe mental health challenges end up in courtrooms and courthouses, rather than in places where they can be taken care of and perhaps helped, is one of the most difficult things in today’s society," the judge said.