California man arraigned in threats to Muslim civil rights group

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2015 9:06 PM

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A San Diego-area man accused of placing a threatening phone call to one office of a Muslim civil rights group and sending a threatening message to another pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to hate crimes charges.

The case against John David Weissinger stems from a profanity-laced phone message received by a staff member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in San Diego threatening the group with a mass shooting, according to Deputy District Attorney Oscar Garcia.

San Diego police then traced the Jan. 15 phone call to Weissinger and went to his house, where they found an AR-15 assault-style rifle and a high-capacity ammunition magazine, Garcia said.

Moreover, Garcia said, investigators found "slurs and writings of a racist nature” in Weissinger's home.

Weissinger, 53, was later accused of using his iPhone to send a threatening message to the Washington, D.C., office of CAIR.

He has been charged with making a threatening call and attempting to make a threatening communication, both felonies that prosecutors alleged were committed as hate crimes.

He also was charged with a firearms felony and additional misdemeanor counts of making harassing calls and interfering with the civil rights of his victims.

If convicted of all charges, Weissinger would face up to five years in prison. He remained free on $50,000 bond.

Defense attorney Thomas Matthews said his client was embarrassed and that his actions were fueled in part by a bout of drinking.

“My client had consumed copious amounts of alcohol and was watching the Charlie Hebdo (massacre in Paris) on television,” Matthews said. “When people are under the influence of alcohol, they tend to do a lot of things they shouldn’t do and wish they could take back.”

But Hanif Mohebi, executive director of CAIR in San Diego, said drunkenness was no excuse for the fear inflicted on his organization, adding that the case exposed a double standard in the U.S. criminal justice system.

“Had this been a Muslim who committed this crime, the FBI would be investigating it, and they are not. ... We are the victims of terrorism, and this case should be treated as such.”

According to Matthews, Weissinger worked as an insurance broker for 25 years, inherited a number of guns when his brother died and sold all but the AR-15 and the magazine, Matthews said, adding that no ammunition was kept at his client's home.

(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh)