WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, America First Legal (AFL) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the Department of Justice’s recommendation substantially reducing the sentence of a career criminal who burned down a pawn shop and killed a man during the Minneapolis BLM riots of 2020, because of the perpetrator’s race.
According to the government’s sentencing memorandum in United States of America v. Montez Terriel Lee, Jr., on May 28, 2020, the defendant poured accelerant around a pawn shop and lit it on fire. The defendant was captured on video saying “F*** this place. We’re gonna burn this bitch down,” looting, and joking about restaurants he was going to hit next. The defendant then posed in front of the burning building with his fist in the air.
On June 5, 2020, a man named Oscar Lee Stewart, 30, was reported missing by his mother, who said she had not seen her son since May 28, 2020. Investigators learned that Mr. Stewart’s vehicle had been found near the pawn shop. On July 20, 2020, local police found him–burned to death–in the rubble.
The defendant had prior convictions for burglary, assault, violation of no contact order, and theft of property. He had “a terrible incident of domestic violence in his criminal history, in which he viciously assaulted a woman and ruptured her left ear-drum.” At the time of the arson, he “was under a criminal justice sentence for his prior assault conviction…” Nevertheless, the Justice Department recommended leniency because the defendant “was in the streets to protest unlawful police violence against black men.” The Justice Department claimed that the defendant felt “angry, frustrated, and disenfranchised,” that he was “engaging in ‘the language of the unheard’” through looting and arson, that the riots were “informed by forces that have been present in this country since its inception” and that had circumstances been “just a little different, Mr. Stewart would be alive today, and [the defendant] would face significantly less criminal liability … the cruel caprices of fate.” However, the Justice Department did not explain how, precisely, randomly burning down a pawn shop and killing a man was “engaging in ‘the language of the unheard’” or how the defendant’s conduct was specifically “informed by forces that have been present in this country since its inception.”
Statement From America First Legal Senior Counselor Reed D. Rubinstein:
“The government’s politicized, race-based plea for leniency in a case about the burning and looting of a random pawn shop discredits federal justice. The prosecutor should have, as nearly as possible, a detached and impartial view of all groups in the community, and Attorney General Garland promised that his Department of Justice would confine itself to strict and impartial enforcement of federal law, letting the chips fall where they may. But the opposite has happened. As it has in health care and education, the Biden Administration is infecting law enforcement with partisan animus and racism, rolling back decades of progress toward the promise of equal justice for all Americans,” Reed Rubinstein said.
Read the FOIA here.
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