The Justice Department announced today that Douglas Matthew Gurkins, 34, pleaded guilty today in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina to one count of criminal interference with the Fair Housing Act, for using threats of force against an African American family because of the family members’ race and because they were renting a dwelling.
According to the defendant’s plea agreement, and admissions in court, the defendant, in December 2014, drove to the home of an African American family and yelled racial slurs at the family. The defendant told the family that they did not belong in their home. The defendant then threatened to shoot the family, to include four minor children, and any other African American that came onto the property. After making this threat, the defendant brandished a metal rod in a threatening manner. The family moved out of the neighborhood a few days after this incident. Within the next four years, the defendant engaged in similar criminal conduct toward two other African American families living in the same neighborhood.
“The defendant is being held accountable for threatening an African-American family because they were occupying a house,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice will continue to investigate and prosecute those individuals who interfere with federally protected housing rights because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.”
“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.”
“Investigating civil rights violations is some of the most important work that we do,” said John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina. “No individual should live in fear because of someone’s intolerance and hatred. Mr. Gurkins’ actions to threaten the lives of African American families, essentially making them afraid inside their own homes is deplorable. Today’s plea is the first step towards justice for these families.”
The defendant faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Charlotte Division, Greenville Resident Agency. Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Blondel of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of North Carolina, and Trial Attorneys Shan Patel and Laura Gilson of the Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section, are prosecuting the case.