Yakima County man charged with threatening to kill Sen. Patty Murray
A 63-year-old Selah man has been charged with threatening to kill U.S. Sen. Patty Murray over her support of the National Health Care Reform Act.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A 63-year-old Yakima County man has been charged with threatening to kill U.S. Sen. Patty Murray over her support of the health-care overhaul.
The FBI and local police arrested Charles Alan Wilson at his Selah home early Tuesday. He later made an initial appearance in federal court in Yakima on one count of threatening a federal official. He was appointed a public defender and ordered to be kept in custody pending a detention hearing Friday.
According to the charges, staffers in Murray's office in the Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle had become concerned over phone calls by an unknown man in recent months. The calls came from a blocked number and often were made at night or on weekends.
Usually, according to a staffer, the calls were merely vulgar and harassing.
But on March 22, "the caller began to make overt threats to kill and/or injure Senator Murray," according to the complaint signed by FBI Agent Carolyn Woodbury.
In that call, a man the FBI says it has identified as Wilson stated, "I hope you realize there's a target on your back now ... Kill the [expletive] senator! I'll donate the lead."
In several other vulgar and profanity-laced messages left over the next week, the caller repeatedly threatened the Democratic senator's life and said he "hopes somebody kills" President Obama as well, according to portions of transcripts in the complaint.
In a call Sunday evening, according to charging documents filed in federal court, Wilson made reference to being in a group of protesters outside the Red Lion Hotel in Yakima last week when Murray was in town to speak at a Chamber of Commerce event.
Local tea party activists participating in the demonstration held signs protesting the health-care overhaul and equating President Obama's agenda with socialism.
"Yeah, we were outside waiting for you," Wilson said in his voice-mail message, records show.
Joe Ray, organizer of Tea Party Patriots of Yakima Valley, told the Yakima-Herald newspaper he'd never heard of Wilson as a participant in the loosely organized coalition of groups billed as Yakima Freedom Partners, which has sponsored recent rallies and events.
"And rest assured, that neither myself or any other coalition members would tolerate that kind of activity," Ray said.
The FBI got the phone number that coincided with the calls through a search warrant served on Verizon. Another agent called the number, posing as a representative of Patients United Now, a group that has called for the repeal of the Health Care Reform Act, and identified Wilson by his voice, according to the charges.
The use of that group, which is affiliated with the pro-tea party, anti-tax, anti-big-government organization Americans For Prosperity (AFP), caused some concern among AFP officials.
FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt said he spoke with AFP officials and acknowledged "they weren't happy" about being affiliated with Wilson or the perception they might be working with the feds.
"They didn't like it, but they understood how it happened," Gutt said.
He said the agents needed to talk to Wilson to verify his identity, and they wanted a ruse to get him to the phone. They found Patients United Now on the Web, and called the contact number to ask permission. However, the number was disconnected.
"They presumed the organization was defunct," Gutt said. "It wasn't.
"It's unfortunate, but remember they were working to address a violent threat," Gutt said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg said that, when discussing the tactic with the agents, it was his understanding the organization had been made up. "It wasn't until later that I found out otherwise," he said.
In a prepared statement, AFP said it has repeatedly condemned "any threats of violence or acts of violence."
Tim Phillips, its president, said the FBI did not contact his group about the matter. "Over the last year, we have been one of the leading grass-roots organizations opposing a Washington takeover of our health care. Perhaps that is why they chose to use our name, though they did not notify us."
The complaint notes the timing of the threats against Murray corresponded to the passage of the health-care bill, and in several of the messages the caller "expressed his strong disapproval for the health-care reform legislation, and the fact that Senator Murray voted in support of the bill."
The FBI said Wilson possesses a concealed-weapons permit and has a .38-caliber revolver registered to him.
If convicted of the charge of threatening a federal official, Wilson faces a maximum 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
His sister, Helen Evans, 60, of Yakima, attended Tuesday's hearing and said her brother had no history of making threats. She last saw him a couple of weeks ago, she told The Associated Press, and they spoke about snowmobiling.
"Obviously my brother crossed over a line, if this is true," she said. "But also, what can I believe when I read it? I'm not going to judge or make any assessments until I talk to him."
Murray declined to comment on the case but told reporters outside an event in Seattle that she feels safe.
"Health-care reform and health care is very personal," Murray said. "As gradually this goes into effect, people will start to say, 'Wow, I didn't know that was going to help me.' Even those who are opposed and angry today, this bill helps them."
A neighbor of Wilson's was surprised by the news.
"I'm kind of shocked, really," Robert Crawford said by telephone. "Just talking to him, I never would have thought of him being involved in anything like this, but then you never really know about people."
Crawford said he has lived on the same block as Wilson for more than 20 years, and believes Wilson is retired.
"I talk to him every now and then, but I can't say I know that much about him."
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times staff reporter Jack Broom contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press and the Yakima Herald-Republic
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.