July 19, 2024

Rep. Maxine Waters stood at the podium in front of a federal judge to tell him of the nightmares that stemmed from a Texas man’s threats, including one to cut her throat.

Waters told U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner on Monday that her family members — several of whom were present in the Los Angeles courtroom — live “in fear every day” because of violent threats made by Brian Michael Gaherty, a Houston resident.

Gaherty, 61, pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to one count of threatening a United Sates official. In his plea agreement, he admitted to threatening to assault and murder Waters in phone calls he made in 2022, in which he used racial slurs and repeatedly referenced the congresswoman’s race.

“This growing effort to target people of color and women of color … has given me nightmares. I am in fear of my life,” said Waters (D-Los Angeles).

“I believe that we must all be accountable,” she added. “Nobody is above the law.”

Klausner agreed, sentencing Gaherty to nearly three years in prison and fining him $10,000. The judge found that Gaherty targeted Waters because of her race and applied a hate-crime enhancement to the sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

Gaherty’s attorneys, who had asked the judge to sentence their client to time served, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. As U.S. marshals prepared to take Gaherty away, he told reporters he was “sorry this happened” and added, “I have no hatred in my heart.”

“Threats to harm or kill elected officials are anathema to our nation’s values and must not — and will not — be tolerated,” U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said in a news release. “My office and the entire Department of Justice will continue to combat threats against public officials and other attempts to chill democracy.”

In his plea agreement, Gaherty admitted to making threats against Waters four separate times in 2022 — twice on Aug. 8, once on Nov. 8 and once on Nov. 10. On Aug. 8, around 11 p.m., Gaherty called Waters’ Hawthorne office and left an expletive-filled voicemail, accusing her of messing “with my people” and saying, “I’mma cut your throat,” according to the agreement.

In his voicemails, Gaherty talked about putting “a cap” between Waters’ eyes and threatened to “stomp” her. He also warned that she “better move” because he and his “boys in the area” had a “contract” on her life.

Gaherty was arrested in April 2023 after prosecutors filed a criminal complaint that outlined the threats to Waters and alleged Gaherty had threatened other elected officials and a news reporter in Houston. A grand jury later indicted Gaherty on federal charges.

In court, Gaherty’s attorney, Joseph Vinas, cited mental health issues and recounted a “litany of horrible incidents” that affected his client. Vinas said Gaherty was injured on the job and later laid off and was at some point the victim of a crime when he was shot in the back while in his driveway.

Vinas added that the threats “were not credible,” and that there was no evidence “that he ever came out here to Los Angeles or went out to Washington, D.C.”

“He never did anything to even attempt to follow up on these threats,” Vinas said.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Laura A. Alexander said Waters didn’t know that Gaherty was “sitting in Texas” when he made the threats and had no way of initially knowing whether the threats were credible. Alexander said Gaherty had also threatened a Latina congresswoman.

Waters told the judge that hearing that Gaherty wanted to “slit my throat” has unnerved her. She described herself as “haunted.”

When someone calls her name out from behind, she said, she doesn’t answer because she doesn’t know if that person is trying to identify her “so that they can kill me.”

“I came here today because I want to understand, I want to know why we have people with that much hatred and that much dislike of people of color,” Waters said.

When Gaherty spoke, he clasped his hands and turned to Waters, who sat on a bench in the front row, and said, “I’m sorry for what I did.” He said it’s “not about race” and told the court his godchildren are Black and added that he’s had five Latina girlfriends.

After the judge handed down his sentence, Waters hugged her family members and told Alexander she’d done “a good job.”

“I’m hopeful that this will be a deterrent to those who believe they can threaten an elected official, threaten to kill us and terrorize us,” Waters said outside of the courtroom. “I really think this goes a long way to holding him accountable.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.