Louisiana Man Sentenced for Arson of Three African-American Churches

Holden Matthews, 23, was sentenced today in the Western District of Louisiana to 300 months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release for intentionally setting fire to three African-American Baptist churches because of the religious character of those buildings. Matthews was also ordered to pay restitution of $590,246 to St. Mary Baptist Church, $970,213.30 to Greater Union, and $1,100,000 to Mt. Pleasant.

Specifically, Matthews was sentenced on three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 247(a)(1) — one count for each church — as well as one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(h). The fires, which Matthews set over a 10-day period in March and April of 2019, completely destroyed each of the church buildings. 

Matthews pled guilty to these charges on Feb. 10, 2020. At his plea hearing, Matthews admitted that, between March 26 and April 4, 2019, he intentionally set fire to three Baptist churches with predominantly African-American congregations in the Opelousas, Louisiana area.  First, on March 26, 2019, Matthews set fire to St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Louisiana. Next, on April 2, 2019, Matthews set fire to the Greater Union Baptist Church, in Opelousas, Louisiana. Then, on April 4, 2019, Matthews set fire to the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana. The fires Matthews set destroyed each of the church buildings. Matthews admitted to setting the fires because of the religious character of these buildings, in an effort to raise his profile as a “Black Metal” musician by copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s. Matthews further admitted that, after setting the third fire, he posted photographs and videos on Facebook that showed the first two churches burning. Matthews admitted that he had taken these photographs and videos in real time on his cell phone, as he watched those churches burn, and that he had posted them to Facebook in an effort to promote himself in the Black Metal community.

“These churches trace their origins to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and, for generations, were a place for predominantly African American Christians to gather, pray, worship, and celebrate their faith,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant’s warped act of hatred. I extend my sympathy to the victims of this defendant’s arson spree, the congregants of Saint Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. The Justice Department will continue vigorously to protect their right to worship and live in peace. The Justice Department stands against these acts of hate and the sentence handed down today reflects that. We will continue to protect the civil right of Americans to freedom of worship without fear of persecution.”

“The members of St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church are the ones who have suffered the most from these heinous crimes and have lost not only physical buildings, but sentimental items that cannot be replaced,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook of the Western District of Louisiana. “The sentence handed down today will not bring their churches back but should send a clear message that there is a high price to pay for this type of destruction and violence and these type of crimes will not be tolerated by this office.” 

“ATF, working alongside our law enforcement partners, was able to bring our expertise and resources to investigate the arsons that threatened the well-being of St. Landry Parish,” said Bureau of Alcho, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) New Orleans Field Division Special Agent in Charge Kurt Thielhorn. “That collaborative effort led to a successful investigation and today’s sentencing of Holden Matthews, and allows the residents of St. Landry Parish to continue to worship without fear of an arsonist in their midst.”

“A cornerstone of our constitution is the Freedom of Religion and the right to practice your faith freely and without intimidation,” said FBI New Orleans Special Agent in Charge Bryan Vorndran. “Matthews’s acts of threatening and intimidating an entire community by setting fire to three historically African American churches were unspeakable. We hope that today’s sentencing brings a level of comfort and satisfaction that justice has prevailed for the parishioners of St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church as well as for all of the citizens of St. Landry Parish affected by these heinous acts.”

This case was investigated by the ATF’s National Response Team; the Lafayette Satellite Office of the ATF’s New Orleans Field Division; the Lafayette Resident Agency of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office; the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal; the Louisiana State Police; the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Crimes Unit; the St. Landry Parish Fire Department; and the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana, and Trial Attorney Risa Berkower, of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

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    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) policy on use of force states that police officers must use the minimal level of force that is reasonably necessary to gain control of a situation and should only utilize physical control methods on an individual when the force is justified by the individual's actions. To guide officers, VA developed a Use of Force Continuum Scale to define and clarify the categories of force that can be used. Categories of Force on the VA’s Use of Force Continuum Scale According to VA policy, all police officers must receive training on the VA's use of force policy when hired and biannually thereafter. Officers are trained—through classroom lectures and scenarios that emphasize effective communication techniques—to use the minimal level of force to deescalate a situation. Officers record use of force incidents electronically and the chief of police decides which, if any, use of force incidents need to be investigated in accordance with VA guidance. Chiefs of Police at the six facilities GAO visited conducted investigations in a similar manner, by reviewing evidence and comparing an officer's action with the VA's use of force policy to determine whether actions were justified. While most investigations are conducted at the local level, VA headquarters may also run investigations for certain incidents, such as when it receives a complaint against an officer. VA police officers record incidents in a database, Report Executive, but GAO's analysis indicates that VA data on use of force incidents are not sufficiently complete and accurate for reporting numbers or trends at medical centers nationwide. For example, GAO found that 176 out of 1,214 use of force incident reports did not include the specific type of force used. Further, Report Executive does not track incidents by individual medical centers. By addressing these limitations, VA can more effectively monitor use of force trends by type of force or medical facility, among other variables, to understand the VA's use of force incidents nationwide. GAO also found that VA does not systematically collect or analyze use of force investigation findings from local medical centers, limiting its ability to provide effective oversight. Specifically, there is no policy requiring Chiefs of Police to submit all investigations on use of force to VA headquarters, and VA does not have a database designed to collect and analyze data on use of force investigations. Collecting and analyzing such data nationwide would allow VA to better assess the impact of its deescalation policies and improve the agency's oversight efforts. About 5,000 VA police officers are responsible for securing and protecting 138 VA medical centers across the country. These officers are authorized to investigate crimes, make arrests, and carry firearms. The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 included a provision that GAO assess aspects of the VA police services. This report addresses (1) what the VA's policies are on the use of force by police officers at medical centers, and what training officers receive on the use of force; (2) how VA records and investigates use of force incidents at medical centers; and (3) the extent to which VA sufficiently collects and analyzes use of force data at medical centers. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed VA policies, procedures, and training materials on the use of force and interviewed VA officials at headquarters and six local medical centers, selected to represent varying size and locations. GAO reviewed VA data on use of force incidents recorded from May 10, 2019, through May 10, 2020—the most recent full year data were available. GAO is making five recommendations, including that VA improve the completeness and accuracy of its use of force data; implement a tool to analyze use of force incidents at medical centers nationwide; ensure that medical centers submit all use of force investigations to VA headquarters; and analyze the use of force investigation data. The VA concurred with each of GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at (202) 512-8777 or goodwing@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Indiana Man Pleads Guilty to Hate Crime for Making Racially-Charged Motivated Threats Toward Black Neighbor and to Unlawful Possession of Firearms
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that Shepherd Hoehn, 51, pleaded guilty in federal court to making threats to intimidate and interfere with his neighbor, who is Black, because of the neighbor’s race and because the neighbor was exercising his right to fair housing, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3631. Hoehn also pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing firearms, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).
    [Read More…]
  • Lao People’s Democratic Republic National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement on the C5+1 Virtual Ministerial
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken to Participate in Christchurch Call to Action Leaders’ Summit
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Civil Action to Shut Down Chicago-Area Tax Return Preparer
    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint seeking to bar a Chicago-area tax return preparer from preparing federal income tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today. The civil complaint against Lavon Boyd was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and alleges that Boyd prepared federal income tax returns for Chicago-area taxpayers that significantly understated his customers’ tax liabilities by fabricating business losses. The suit alleges that Boyd fabricated or exaggerated his customers’ business expenses. The suit also charges that Boyd allegedly fabricated childcare expenses on at least one of his customers’ tax returns.
    [Read More…]
  • Designations of Four PRC and Hong Kong Officials Threatening the Peace, Security, and Autonomy of Hong Kong
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planet Found Hidden in Early NASA Kepler Data
    In Space
    While the star it orbits [Read More…]
  • Algeria Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Department Of Justice Applauds President Trump’s Authorization Of The Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement And Reform Permanent Extension Act
    In Crime News
    On October 1, President Donald J. Trump signed into law a continuing resolution that contains the Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Permanent Extension Act (the “Act”).  The Act reauthorizes the Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act (ACPERA) and repeals the sunset provision therein.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Dutch Foreign Minister Blok
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Promoting and Protecting Human Rights: A Re-Dedication to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Former Media Producer Indicted on Charges of Extortion and Obstruction of Justice
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned an indictment Tuesday charging a former media producer with extortion and obstruction of justice during a federal investigation in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
    [Read More…]
  • Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s Negotiating Team
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Disabilities Reported by Prisoners: Survey of Prison Inmates, 2016
    In Justice News
    (Publication)
    This brief presents findings based on data collected in the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, a survey conducted through face-to-face interviews with a national sample of state and federal prisoners across a variety of topics, such as their demographic characteristics, socio-economic background, health, and involvement with the criminal justice system.
    3/30/2021, NCJ 252642, Mariel Alper, Jennifer Bronson, Laura M. Maruschak [Read More…]
  • Department Press Briefing – March 5, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Russian National Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Introduce Malware into a U.S. Company’s Computer Network
    In Crime News
    A Russian national pleaded guilty in federal court today for conspiring to travel to the United States to recruit an employee of a Nevada company into a scheme to introduce malicious software into the company’s computer network.
    [Read More…]
  • Central African Republic National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]