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Yes, US couple serving 19 years in jail for racist threats of violence at child’s birthday party in 2015

Two people in the United States were sentenced to a combined 19 years in prison for racist threats of violence against a black child. That’s the claim in an article from February 2017 that’s been widely shared on social media in 2020, including in South Africa. 

The story has been flagged as potentially false by Facebook’s fact-checking programme. Is it true? 

Confirmed by media, district attorney, advocacy group

The flagged article was published on the website All That's Interesting on 28 February 2017. It was also reported by US news outlets CNN, NPR and Reuters

Most articles drew on a Facebook post by the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office in Georgia, a state in the southeastern US. The post was  published under the headline “Torres and Norton Convicted of Hate Crimes”. 

Africa Check contacted the office, who confirmed that the Facebook post was accurate. Chief assistant district attorney Steven Knittel also told us that all cases related to this incident have been resolved.

The post describes how the couple, Jose Torres and Kayla Norton, were found guilty on 6 February 2017 of “1 count of Terroristic Threats, and 1 count of Violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act” each. Torres was also found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault, while two other defendants pleaded guilty before the trial. 

Torres and Norton took part in an event in July 2015 organised by a group called Respect the Flag – a reference to the confederate flag, used as a symbol by white supremacists, particularly in the US.

The group was said by witnesses to have targeted, harassed, and threatened to kill black people in Douglas County and neighbouring Paulding County. They finally approached a group of black people celebrating a child’s birthday, began threatening to kill partygoers and used racial slurs. Torres also brandished a loaded shotgun.

Torres and Norton were sentenced to a combined 19 years in prison: Torres to “20 years with 13 of those years to be served in prison” and Norton to “15 years with 6 of those years to be served in prison”. 

Non-profit, anti-hate group the Southern Poverty Law Center confirmed these details in their report on the incident from October 2015 and wrote three other reports on the sentencing of the couple. – Keegan Leech


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