Black leaders decry sentence for man who targeted protesters

ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) — Black leaders called Thursday for federal prosecutors to file hate crime charges after a judge gave a lenient sentence to a white Missouri man who stockpiled explosives meant to target the Black Lives Matter movement and other protesters.

Cameron Swoboda, 26, pleaded guilty earlier this month to three felony counts of unlawful possession, transport, manufacture, repair or sale of an illegal weapon. St. Charles County Circuit Judge Deborah Alessi suspended a seven-year sentence, gave Swoboda credit for 60 days served in jail, and placed him on probation for five years.

Police in June seized explosive material and emptied-out shotgun shells at Swoboda’s apartment in St. Charles County, near St. Louis. Authorities also found six altered grenades, the makings of two pipe bombs and a claymore-style mine enhanced with BBs, all of which were hidden along a rural road.

Swoboda’s friends went to police to express worries that he was planning a “large-scale attack” on protesters, according to charging documents. They said he had expressed dislike for the the Black Lives Matter movement and Black and Hispanic people.

As a condition of his probation, Swoboda was ordered to get mental health treatment and can’t possess any guns.

Black leaders who spoke at a news conference in front of the St. Charles County Courthouse said that in 2015, two Black men were sent to prison for seven years for planning to bomb public buildings and police cars during protests that followed Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. They questioned why Swoboda didn’t get at least a similar sentence when he already had the weapons in hand at a time when racial injustice protests were common in the St. Louis region and elsewhere after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

“Now we have a Republican judge who gives a green light to a would-be assassin,” said the Rev. Darryl Gray, a St. Louis activist leader and protest organizer.

A phone message left with Alessi’s office wasn’t immediately returned.

Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel Jr. noted that his organization in 2017 issued a travel advisory warning people against travel to Missouri, citing racist incidents, a state law making it harder to sue for discrimination and the far greater likelihood that Black motorists will be pulled over. The advisory, Chapel, said, remains in effect.

“This case is a prime example of why,” Chapel said. “The idea that an individual could construct explosives in his home, place those roadside, and at the same time escape accountability for that behavior is unparalleled.”

Black leaders questioned why St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar didn’t pursue state hate crime charges against Swoboda. Lohmar’s spokeswoman, Leslie Knight, declined comment.

Gray said the Black leaders are seeking a federal hate crime investigation. But Swoboda’s attorney, Jason Korner, said he was told by the U.S. Attorney’s office last year that no federal hate crime investigation was planned.

Korner said Swoboda suffers from several mental health issues, and has received intensive treatment since he was charged.

“It’s really working,” Korner said. “He’s really doing well.”

Black leaders wondered what could happen if the treatment stops working.

“He was really going to cause harm to a bunch of people,” said Adolphus Pruitt, St. Louis city NAACP president.

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