Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office Obtains Civil Rights Injunction Against Neo-Nazis Who Accosted Jewish Man in Wareham
The order, granted March 22, 2010, by Plymouth Superior Court Judge Garry Inge, prohibits Michael Watkins, of Greenfield, and Emily Putney, of Royalston, from violating the civil rights of any person in the Commonwealth based on actual or perceived race, national origin, or religion. Violation of the injunction is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to two and a half years in a House of Correction, or $10,000 and up to 10 years in State Prison if physical injury results. Watkins pled guilty to criminal charges stemming from the incident in Wareham District Court in January 2010.
"Bias-motivated attacks cannot and will not be tolerated in Massachusetts. Beyond their devastating effects on individual victims, hate crimes are detrimental to the safety and well-being of our communities at large," said Attorney General Coakley. "Our office remains committed to enforcing the state's civil rights laws to protect residents and visitors to the Commonwealth and hold accountable those who threaten their safety."
According to the complaint filed on February 17, 2010, the Jewish customer was shopping at Stop and Shop Supermarket in Wareham when Watkins entered the store in September 2009. Watkins, whose torso and shaved head are covered in swastika, neo-nazi and white supremacy tattoos, saw the victim, made a "heil Hitler" salute to the supermarket's security camera, and followed the victim outside.
In the parking lot, Watkins shouted an onslaught of hateful speech at the Jewish customer, calling him a "white nigger" and saying, "we will kill you all" and "niggers will die, not whites." Out of fear, the customer returned to the supermarket, where employees called police. Watkins was accompanied by Putney during the incident who also drove Watkins away from the scene.
Putney led police on a half-mile chase, during which Watkins threw a loaded large capacity shotgun from the passenger seat window, before pulling over. Watkins then charged at police, who were able to subdue and arrest Watkins only after administering a taser on him twice.
On January 8, 2009, Watkins pled guilty in Wareham District Court to criminal charges of civil rights violations, firearm violations, and resisting arrest in connection with the incident. Watkins is currently serving an 18-month sentence for an unrelated incident in Athol and will serve additional committed time in jail for the firearm, resisting arrest, and civil rights violations. The criminal case was prosecuted by the Plymouth District Attorney's Office.
The Attorney General's Office brought this action under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA), commonly referred to as the "hate crimes" statute. Under the MCRA, the Attorney General's Office may obtain injunctions against individuals who threaten, intimidate, or coerce victims because of their membership in a protected class - race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, for example - or because they are engaged in a protected activity, such as the right to use public ways or places, the right to vote, or the right to associate.
Since taking office in 2007, Attorney General Martha Coakley's office has obtained 29 civil rights injunctions on behalf of victims of hate crimes, often working in close collaboration with police departments and District Attorney's offices throughout the Commonwealth. In addition to the prosecution of cases, the Civil Rights Division actively provides trainings to police officers, school personnel, and community groups to aid in the recognition and understanding of bias-motivated incidents and how to properly respond.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Jeanne M. Veenstra of Attorney General Coakley's Civil Rights Division, with the assistance of Ashley Cinelli of the Victim Witness Services Division. The Plymouth County District Attorney's Office and the Wareham Police Department also assisted in the matter.