A Saginaw optometrist has been charged with a federal hate crime for allegedly intimidating Black Lives Matter supporters in a series of actions involving nooses and threatening messages left for Starbucks employees across the state, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
According to court documents, Kenneth Pilon, 61, called nine Starbucks stores across the state in 2020 and told the person who answered the phone to relay this message to any Starbucks employees wearing BLM T-shirts: “The only good (N-word) is a dead (N-word)”
Pilon also allegedly told one employee, “I’m gonna go out and lynch me a (N-word).”
Pilon allegedly left these messages two days after Starbucks announced that it would provide 250,000 BLM T-shirts to employees who wanted to wear them during their shifts. This was the summer of 2020, when the nation saw an outburst of protests condemning the May 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
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According to court records, Pilon left these messages at Starbucks stores in Saginaw, Flint, Birch Run, Allen Park, Oak Park and Ann Arbor on June 14, 2020, over the course of about an hour, starting at 4:39 pm and ending at 5:42 pm — leaving his last message for baristas in Ann Arbor.
One month after making those calls, court records show, Pilon left nooses in Kroger and Walmart parking lots in Saginaw, including one he tucked inside a beverage cooler at a 7-Eleven store with a handwritten note attached that read: “An accessory to be worn with your ‘BLM’ t-shirt. Happy protesting!'”
Among those who found the nooses was Donald Simon, a 44-year-old Black man from Saginaw who is in a biracial marriage. According to his wife, Simon was about to go out for a cup of coffee one morning and found a noose inside his truck with the handwritten note attached. The truck had been parked overnight in the driveway, with the window slightly cracked, she said, noting that’s likely how the noose was slipped into the truck.
“It was like a numbness … that this person hated us so much,” Simon’s wife, Regina, recalled in a Wednesday interview with the Free Press.
Regina Simon, who is Mexican and white, said she knew the FBI had been investigating her case, and believed that justice would eventually prevail.
“I’m relieved that this man is going to be held accountable,” Regina Simon said. “I’m shocked at all this man did. I didn’t know anything about Starbucks — or the previous nooses.”
Pilon is charged with six counts of interfering with federally protected activities — a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison.
“Specifically, Pilon intimidated and attempted to intimidate citizens from participating lawfully in speech and peaceful assembly opposing the denial of Black people’s right to enjoy police protection and services free from brutality,” states the charging document.
Pilon has been charged by way of Information — a charging document that bypasses the federal grand jury process, and typically means the defendant is cooperating with authorities and working on a plea deal of some sort.
Pilon has not yet been arraigned and is not in custody. His attorney, Barry Wolf, was not readily available for comment.
According to the charging document, here is the timeline of Pilon’s rants on June 14, 2020:
- 4:39 pm Pilon called a Starbucks in Saginaw and stated: “Tell all the Starbucks workers wearing BLM shirts that the only good (N-word) is a dead (N-word)
- 4:45 pm Pilon called a second Starbucks in Saginaw and left the same message.
- 4:46 pm Pilon called a Starbucks in Bay City, left the same message, and added: “I’m gonna go out and lynch me a (N-word)
- 4:49 pm Pilon called a Starbucks in Birch Run and again stated: “I want those who work for Starbucks to know that the only good (N-word) is a dead (N-word)
- 4:59 pm Pilon called a Starbucks store in Flint and repeated that message.
- 5:09 pm Pilon called a Starbucks store in Allen Park and made the same message.
- 5:22 pm Pilon called a Starbucks in Ann Arbor and again referenced the BLM shirts, and the same message.
- 5:31 pm Pilon called a Starbucks in Oak Park and slightly tweaked his messages by directing it at white people, stating: “Tell the employees working there wearing the Black Lives Matter shirts — especially the white people — that the only good (N- word) is a dead (N-word)”
- 5:42 pm Pilon repeated this message in a phone call to second Starbucks in Ann Arbor.
On July 12, 2020, Pilon left another noose inside a truck in a driveway – this was the incident involving the Simon couple.
On July 17, 2020, Pilon left another noose with a note in a Walmart parking lot in Saginaw. That noose was also found by the Simons as they exited the store and later held a BLM rally at their house, hoping to shame what they believed was a neighborhood hate monger.
Unbeknownst to the Simons, however, Pilon allegedly had been dropping nooses across town all summer – his last one turning up in a Kroger parking lot, the same day one showed up at Walmart.