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Seattle man accused of threatening to kill Black people at a Buffalo Tops

The store he targeted was not the same grocery where a gunman killed 10 and injured three in May

LeCandice Durham and her daughter, Treasure, 4, walk through the parking lot on July 15 during the reopening of a Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo where 10 people were killed in a May gun attack. (Lauren Petracca/Reuters)

A man from the Seattle area has been charged with threatening to kill Black people at a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo, days after another Tops location — the site of a May massacre allegedly motivated by race — reopened to the public.

Joey David George, 37, is accused of making a pair of threatening calls to a grocery store on Elmwood Avenue on July 19 and 20, allegedly identifying himself as “Peter” and inquiring about the number of Black people in the store, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Seattle.

George allegedly remarked in the first call that he would be featured on the news if he “shot and killed all of the Black people, including all of the women, children and babies” in the grocery store. He told an employee he was nearby or inside the location, the court papers say.

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Asking whether the store had been evacuated, George allegedly said he would opt to attack the store where the May 14 mass shooting occurred, which is located on Jefferson Avenue, if there were no Black people to shoot at the Elmwood store when he got there.

Tops spokeswoman Kathleen Sautter said the Elmwood store was closed and evacuated as a result of the threat and that the Buffalo Police Department responded. “We take every threat seriously, and our team works with local police agencies to assess threats and react accordingly,” she said.

A public defender assigned to represent George, who was expected to appear before a judge in Seattle on Friday afternoon, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Tops on Jefferson Avenue, in a primarily Black neighborhood that was long considered a food desert, reopened to the public after a renovation on July 15. A 19-year-old Binghamton, N.Y.- area man, Payton Gendron, is accused of killing 10 Black people and wounding three other individuals at the store on May 14. He faces multiple murder, hate-crimes and other charges in state and federal court.

According to court documents, George allegedly made a second call to the Tops store on Elmwood Avenue, the day after making the threat. He allegedly “ranted about a race war” and said, “This is what happens in a blue state.”

Nick Brown, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, said in a statement that Buffalo “is trying to heal from the horrific shooting” on May 14 and that he “cannot imagine the type of fear such hate fueled threats engendered in those just trying to go about their daily lives.”

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George is also facing charges for allegedly making race-related threats to a restaurant in San Bruno, Calif., on May 12. He allegedly said in a phone call to Shari’s Restaurant and Pies that he would shoot all Black and Hispanic patrons if the store didn’t close within 20 minutes.

When a police officer in San Bruno spoke to George, who was using the alias “Tony Sumorrah,” he told the officer he wanted to put Black people in the Bay Area in fear and that Black people are “subhuman.”

Justice Department officials also alleged that George made threats to a marijuana dispensary in Rockville, Md. and a Denny’s in Connecticut in September. He also allegedly made a telephone threat to a dispensary in Seattle in January.

Using a derogatory term for Black people, George, using the pseudonym “David Lester” allegedly told the Verilife Dispensary in Rockville on Sept. 11 that he would “shoot and kill” Black customers there. When the store manager tried to de-escalate the threats on a call with George, the suspect allegedly responded by threatening a specific employee, “accurately describing the employee’s appearance, including their skin tone.”

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