A Milwaukee man faces a felony hate-crime charge for an alleged acid attack on a man who says he was targeted for his Latino identity and left with second-degree burns.
On Wednesday, 61-year-old Clifton Blackwell, who is white, was charged with first-degree reckless injury in a hate crime using a dangerous weapon.
Reckless injury carries up to 25 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. But prosecutors’ decision to pursue hate crime and dangerous weapon enhancements mean Blackwell could face stiffer penalties, including up to 10 more years’ imprisonment.
The Washington Post could not reach Blackwell or his attorney Wednesday evening.
At a news conference the day after the assault, Villalaz said he parked his truck outside the restaurant at 8:30 p.m. and began to walk toward it to have dinner when a man at a nearby bus stop approached him, reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Villalaz told ABC affiliate WISN 12 that the man chastised him for parking in a bus lane.
Then, Villalaz said, the man asked why he’d “invaded” the United States.
“Why don’t you respect my laws?” he also asked, police say Villalaz recounted.
Realizing he was parked too close to a bus stop, police say in court documents, Villalaz moved his truck to another spot and headed toward the restaurant. But Blackwell re-engaged, Villalaz told authorities, saying “Why did you invade my country?” calling Villalaz an “illegal” and cursing at him while telling him to “go back.”
Villalaz, who says he grew up in Peru and immigrated to the United States as a young man, became a citizen in 2013, police said. He told Blackwell that “everyone comes from somewhere first” and pointed out that “American Indians have been in the country the longest,” court filings state.
That’s when the man “got mad,” Villalaz told reporters, and tossed the acid, which was in a small silver bottle. The moment was caught on surveillance video..
Villalaz was taken to the hospital with second-degree burns to his face, cheek and neck, as well as damage to his clothing, according to police. Testing showed that acid caused the injuries.
“I believe [I] am a victim of a hate crime because [of] how he approached me telling me to ‘get out this country,’ ” Villalaz told WISN. “This is pretty much a terrorist attack."
Searching Blackwell’s home on Monday, police found hydrochloric acid, four bottles of sulfuric acid and two bottles of drain opener made of lye, according to court documents.
Blackwell’s bond has been set at $20,000 on the condition that he wears an electronic monitoring device. He is also forbidden from contact with acids or large batteries.
Court records indicate Blackwell has previously been convicted of false imprisonment and pointing a gun at a person.
Milwaukee-area officials were quick to condemn the attack.
In a statement Saturday, city Alderman José Pérez called it a “heinous crime that will have a long-term impact on the life of the victim.”
“This was senseless violence that needs to stop,” Pérez said.
He also called on political leaders to prevent racially motivated crimes.
“We need those elected officials who are spreading racial hatred to knock off the rhetoric that is designed to divide us,” Pérez said. “Instead, we need to work to heal the wounds that have been gashed open in the last few years. We as a country are better than this. Milwaukee is better than this.”
On Monday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) also expressed horror at what happened, connecting it to a political climate in which he said President Trump has heightened divisions, the Associated Press reported. Trump was widely condemned this summer for telling four congresswomen of color, all citizens, to “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Villalaz has told reporters he is thankful his children were not with him at the time of the attack.
“I feel scared being an American citizen,” he said at the news conference. “I feel scared that I cannot feel protected in my own country with my neighbors.”