GREENVILLE, N.C. – The Justice Department announced today that Douglas Matthew Gurkins, 34, was sentenced to 28 months in prison, followed by 3 years supervised release, for using threats of force against an African American family because of the family members’ race and because they were renting a dwelling.
On August 6, 2020, Gurkins pled guilty to one count of criminal interference with the Fair Housing Act. At his guilty plea hearing, Gurkins admitted that in December 2014, he 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 and 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.
“Part of what makes the United States free is the guarantee that we can live anywhere in this country without regard to the color of our skin and without murderous threats directed at us and our children,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “This defendant terrorized an entire family by threatening to kill African American parents and their four children and others because of their race. This kind of cruel terror has no place in the United States of America, and the U.S. Department of Justice will remain vigilant in prosecuting anyone who interferes with any families’ housing rights.”
“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.”
“There is no way to undo the damage Gurkins did to these families with his hateful, repulsive, and violent behavior,” said Robert R. Wells, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina. “The FBI hopes today’s prison sentence can provide them some sense of comfort. No one should ever be targeted or threatened because of the color of their skin, especially in their own homes.”
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, prosecuted the case.