RAEFORD, N.C. (AP) — A lawyer for an Army Reserve officer accused of leaving bacon outside a mosque and making death threats against some of its members asked a judge on Wednesday for more time to probe the accusations, explaining later that his client has a distinguished military record and deserves due process.
But Muslim worshippers at the mosque in Raeford said the officer's rank highlights the seriousness of the allegations and the need for an elevated commitment to public safety.
Attorney Kelly Dawkins asked a district court on Wednesday to hold Russell Thomas Langford's case until next month as the defense investigates events June 9 at the mosque, about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville.
Langford has been charged with ethnic intimidation, assault with a deadly weapon, going armed to the terror of the public, communicating threats, stalking and disorderly conduct. He had posted a $60,000 secured bond for his release afterward and was placed under the control of his commander at the Army Reserve Command at Fort Bragg.
"Major Langford has served our country extraordinarily honorably," Dawkins said. "He is a Bronze Star recipient. I think he deserves ... all the due process we can give him."
Witnesses said Langford made death threats to worshippers, taunted children, followed a member home and later attempted to run over one of the community's members in his vehicle.
The accusations are the first of their kind at the Raeford mosque and have left a mark on the local Muslim community, said community member Uzma Khan. She said her father, retired military chaplain Mohammed Khan, told authorities that Langford threatened him at gunpoint during the incident.
Uzma Khan said local law enforcement is now present nearly every day to provide security. Mosque members return to their homes sooner after services and view strangers with a newfound anxiety, she added.
"There is a little bit of fear in the air, not just because of what happened at the mosque in Raeford, but what has happened across the country," she added.
Khan said she hopes the court will deal with the charges "in a way that is appropriate" regardless of the officer's military record.
"For me and most of the American citizens at the mosque and in general, it actually is a reason why Major Langford should be held to a higher standard," Khan said. "Instead of being an excuse to see the situation in a lighter manner, I actually think it's more serious. He represents the states abroad. Part of defending the U.S. is also defending us."
Langford enlisted in the Army in 2003 and transferred from active duty to the Army Reserve in 2008. He earned the rank of major in 2015 and has been stationed as Army Reserve Command at Ft. Bragg since February.
His awards include a Bronze Star Medal, awarded to armed forces members for heroic service, as well as Army good conduct and achievement medals.
Langford was deployed in Iraq for nearly a year between 2007 and 2008.
Langford on Wednesday was accompanied by three family members. The family has not released any official statements or comments.
Dawkins said he could not comment on whether Langford suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder, but said he expects the court would consider in its judgment any mental state that would diminish Langford's capacity to understand the consequences of actions, especially because some of Langford's charges, such as ethnic intimidation, rely on intent.
"We just ask frankly that the public and the state remember he remains with the presumption of innocence," Dawkins said.
Langford currently lives at home with his family, Dawkins said, and his release has been altered to prohibit him from contacting any potential witnesses, possessing any firearms and going on property of the mosque.
His next appearance is set for Aug. 17.