For Immediate Release - June 09, 2011

AG Coakley's Office Obtains Civil Rights Judgment Against Man in Anti-Semitic Attack in Wareham

PLYMOUTH - Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office has obtained a permanent civil rights injunction against a man who, together with his girlfriend, made harassing threats to a Jewish man and prevented him from returning to his car at a Wareham supermarket parking lot in September 2009.

The order, granted by Plymouth Superior Court Judge Thomas F. McGuire, Jr., permanently prohibits Michael Watkins from violating the civil rights of any person in the Commonwealth motivated by bias against actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Violation of the injunction is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and 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. The Attorney General's Office obtained a temporary restraining order against Watkins and his girlfriend Emily Putney in March 2010 prohibiting them from approaching the victim or anyone involved with the case until the case was resolved.

"Hate crimes cause significant harm to individuals and to the safety of our communities at large," AG Coakley said. "These acts of indignity and ignorance will not be tolerated. Our Office is committed to enforcing the state's civil rights laws to protect residents and visitors to the Commonwealth and will continue to prosecute those who threaten their safety."

According to the complaint, filed on February 17, 2010, a Jewish customer was shopping at Stop and Shop Supermarket in Wareham when Watkins and his girlfriend, Emily Putney, entered the store. Watkins, whose torso and shaved head are covered in swastikas and white supremacist tattoos, noticed the victim, made a "heil Hitler" salute to the supermarket's security camera, and followed the victim outside.

In the parking lot, Watkins shouted multiple ethnic and religious epithets at the Jewish customer as Putney looked on and laughed. Out of fear, the customer returned to the supermarket, where employees called police. Watkins and Putney fled the scene and led police on a half-mile chase, during which Watkins threw a loaded large capacity shotgun from the passenger seat window. Watkins and Putney were arrested at the scene.

The Attorney General's Office sought relief 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.

On January 8, 2010, Watkins pled guilty in Wareham District Court to criminal charges of civil rights violations, firearm violations, and resisting arrest and was sentenced to jail where he remains to date. On August 6, 2010 the Commonwealth obtained a permanent injunction against Emily Putney which also prohibits bias-motivated conduct.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Jeanne M. Veenstra of AG Coakley's Civil Rights Division, with the assistance Ashley Cinelli of the Victim Witness Services Division.