According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of North Carolina, a white North Carolina man has been sentenced for a crime of violating the Fair Housing Act by threatening a Black family due to their race.
The Justice Department has announced that Douglas Matthew Gurkins, who is 34, was sentenced to a little more than 2 years (28 months) in prison. That will be followed by 3 years of supervised release for using threats of force against a Black family due to the family members’ race who were renting from him. The sentence is a fraction of the maximum penalty he was facing, which was 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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“Part of what makes the United States free is the guarantee that we can live anywhere in this country without regard to the color of our skin and without murderous threats directed at us and our children,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in a written statement. “This defendant terrorized an entire family by threatening to kill African American parents and their four children and others because of their race. This kind of cruel terror has no place in the United States of America, and the U.S. Department of Justice will remain vigilant in prosecuting anyone who interferes with any families’ housing rights.”
Back on August 6, 2020, Gurkins had pled guilty to one count of criminal interference with the Fair Housing Act. At his plea hearing, he admitted that, almost 6 years ago, in December 2014, he drove to the home of a Black family and yelled racial slurs at them. He then told the family that they did not belong in their home and then Gurkins threatened to shoot the family, which included four minor children. He also threatened to shoot any other Black that came on the property.
The family ended up moving out of the neighborhood several days after this incident took place. Gurkins continued this type of activity for the next four years towards two other Black families living in the same neighborhood.
“This defendant threatened citizens of this District – a mom and her four children – because of their race. This is not who we are as Americans and prejudice of any kind is intolerable,” said U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “The defendant’s threats violate the laws designed to ensure fair and equal treatment for us all and I am pleased we could bring this matter to federal court to vindicate those rights and to stand with this mom and her children to see that justice is served.”
“There is no way to undo the damage Gurkins did to these families with his hateful, repulsive, and violent behavior,” said Robert R. Wells, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina. “The FBI hopes today’s prison sentence can provide them some sense of comfort. No one should ever be targeted or threatened because of the color of their skin, especially in their own homes.”