When Mark Olic Porter yelled a racial slur at a 7-year-old African-American boy and zapped the child’s father with a stun device, he was sending a message that he did not want them living in the Draper apartment complex where he resided, prosecutors said.
On Wednesday, a federal jury in Salt Lake City sent a message of its own.
The 12-member panel returned a guilty verdict in Porter’s trial on a hate crime charge of interfering with the family’s housing rights based on race. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced May 30 by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson.
“This crime of hatred is one that cannot be tolerated at all in the state of Utah and the United States,” U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said outside the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City after the verdict. “Today, the jury spoke on behalf of the community, and their verdict of guilty sends a clear message to this defendant and other people who may act like him that in Utah, this is not welcome.”
Huber said prosecutors will ask for a stiff prison sentence “that will represent the significance of this crime.”
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake branch and of the NAACP Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, also applauded the jury’s decision.
“It’s a clear statement to the public that Utah will not tolerate discrimination,” she said.
The trial began Monday, and the jury deliberated about four hours Wednesday before reaching its verdict.
Attorneys for Porter, 59, said the altercation at the Adagio — a 44-acre complex with nearly 500 units at 13343 S. Minuteman Drive — was not based on racism but on tensions common in high-density housing.
But prosecutors said that Porter made it clear before he even signed a lease at the Adagio that he did not want to be around black people.
Their witnesses included a leasing agent who said Porter asked how many black families lived at the complex. Maintenance workers testified that when the unit above his became vacant, the defendant asked them not to move any “n------“ there. Porter’s next-door neighbor said he had ranted to her that he wanted to “exterminate” all blacks.
According to prosecutors, Porter shouted at the 7-year-old on Nov. 3, 2016. While the boy rode around a courtyard on a scooter, the man allegedly said, “Get out of here, n-----.”
The boy’s father, Mike Waldvogel, testified that he was inside his own apartment and could hear Porter yelling, so he went outside to get his son. As he was walking back home with the boy, he passed Porter, who was standing on his own patio.
Waldvogel, 41, started to tell Porter that he didn’t care what the man said when he was inside, but he was not to talk to his son that way. Porter yelled, ‘You and your n------ son can get out of here,’” according to Waldvogel, who describes his race as a mix of Latin American and African-American.
Then, Waldvogel heard the arcing of a device and was hit on the left side of his neck by an electrified Zap Cane, he said, and felt pain that “pretty much incapacitated me.”
Waldvogel called police, and Porter allegedly struggled with two officers while they were arresting him. He was released on bond and eventually was charged in Utah’s 3rd District Court with third-degree-felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor counts of assault against a police officer, interference with arresting officers and intoxication.
The state charges were later dropped in favor of the federal prosecution, and Porter was indicted by a grand jury Sept. 13. He was arrested the next day in Lake Havasu, Ariz., and has been in custody in Utah since.
To get a conviction, prosecutors had to prove that Porter used force or a threat of force; willfully injured, intimidated or interfered with Waldvogel; acted because Waldvogel was occupying a dwelling and because of his race or color; and that his conduct resulted in bodily injury to Waldvogel.
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Drew Yeates said Porter “did these terrible things because he hates black people and he didn’t want them living in his community.”
“He went after a first-grade boy because his skin was black,” Yeates said.
Daphne Oberg, a federal public defender, acknowledged in her closing argument that her client has offensive viewpoints and makes racist statements, but she said he is not guilty of the hate crime. Porter would have reacted the same way in a dispute with a stranger, no matter what race or color the other man was, she said.
“Mr. Porter’s overreaction was an inappropriate response of an angry old man,” Oberg said.
She also said the case was based on intent and stressed that for Porter to be guilty of the interference charge, jurors must find that his actions were motivated by both Waldvogel’s race and his occupancy of an apartment at the complex.
“The important thing to remember is being racist isn’t enough,” Oberg said.
Outside court on Wednesday, FBI Special Agent Eric Barnhart, the head of the bureau’s Salt Lake City field office, which investigated the case, said the guilty verdict “will send a powerful message that if you victimize a 7-year-old boy and his father who’s trying to protect him, you’ll be investigated and prosecuted.”
Barnhart said hate crimes are underreported, and he urged victims to come forward.
“We take those extremely seriously, and we act on every one of those,” he said. “Report it, and we will act.”