Update: On September 13, 2023, Kennedy agreed to plead guilty to two charges in the case: Retaliation Against a Public Official, a felony, and Bias Motivated Crime, a misdemeanor. As part of the plea, he agreed to undergo evaluation and treatment for behavioral health and substance use disorders.
A Denver man has been arrested on charges of stalking and harassing Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse.
Michael James Kennedy, 49, is accused of repeatedly leaving voicemail messages for the Democratic congressman in which he threatened to shoot Neguse over his advocacy for stricter gun laws. The messages were peppered with racist language and insinuations against Neguse, who is Black.
The arrest warrant lists 17 separate voicemails left between mid-May and late June last year, many of them referencing past mass shootings, including those at the Table Mesa King Soopers, which was in Neguse’s district, and the Buffalo Tops grocery, in which the shooter specifically targeted Black people.
“Check this out, Joe Neguse,” Kennedy allegedly said in one message. “What are you going to do about me? I got me a AK-47 pointed directly at you. What are you gonna (expletive) do about that?”
In a message from June 6, the caller asked, “You want to control my (expletive) guns? … I only need one bullet, pointed directly at your head.”
Officers from the FBI and Denver police visited Kennedy the following day and he reportedly admitted to making the calls with the intention of scaring the congressman. He said he “probably should not have done it,” according to the affidavit.
Kennedy allowed officers to search his residence, where they did not find any firearms. However, officers said he told them shortly afterward that he wanted to buy a 9mm pistol “because it packs a punch” and that he wanted to “have, hold, caress and love” it.
The calls apparently stopped after the police visit.
Investigators found that Kennedy had made similar threatening, and in some cases racist, calls to Denver mayor Michael Hancock, Rep. Diana DeGette and Gov. Jared Polis, and had also been warned by officers in those cases.
Kennedy’s only past conviction is for driving under the influence in 2018. In this case he is charged with stalking and retaliation against an elected official, both felonies, and bias-motivated crimes, a class one misdemeanor.
Colorado’s members of Congress have faced repeated threats
Kennedy is the second person to face charges for threatening Rep. Neguse.
Travis Chaudoir was arrested last June for making “hundreds” of threatening, obscenity-laden calls to Neguse’s Boulder office in the course of a single day, including threats that he would be waiting in the parking lot as people came out. The incident made staff so concerned for their safety that they closed the office early.
Chaudoir reportedly left a second round of voicemails a week after his arrest. He ended up pleading guilty to retaliation against an elected official, harassment and theft and spent six months in jail.
A Florida man was also arrested last year for making threats against Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert on Twitter. Those threats appeared to be over Boebert’s strong support for the Second Amendment.
Additionally, a Pueblo 19-year-old was arrested last August for emailing threats to several members of Congress, including graphic descriptions of violent acts he claimed he would commit against them and their families. In that case, the targets were only identified by their initials, including one listed as L.B. Boebert is one of three members of Congress last year with those initials.
Under a plea deal entered in the court on Wednesday, Malachi Mathias Moon Seals pled guilty to 12 counts of threatening elected officials. Prosecutors are seeking five years of probation. Sentencing in that case is scheduled for July.
The question of what counts as a legally actionable threat is one that the U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider, thanks to another case from Colorado.
A Denver man is challenging his conviction on harassment and stalking for sending more than a thousand messages to a local singer-songwriter after seeing her perform. His lawyers argue the messages weren’t “true threats” and should be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.
The Justices will hear arguments in that case next week.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with information about Moon Seals' plea arrangement.
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