Former Marysville student charged with racist death threats

Prosecutors say the defendant, 20, made multiple threats in the past while attending high school.

MARYSVILLE — A Lake Stevens man has been charged with a felony hate crime for posting a photo of what appeared to be a handgun on social media and threatening to kill people of color.

Court papers say Benjamin Richey, 20, had previously been investigated for multiple threats of violence, as well as hurling racial slurs at people of color, while attending school in Marysville.

In the latest incident, one of Richey’s relatives, who was still a student at Marysville Pilchuck High School, had a few friends over Jan. 28, according to the new charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court. Richey allegedly took the phone of one of the friends without that person’s knowledge. Police believe he used the friend’s Snapchat account to post a picture of himself holding a silver BB gun with the caption “killing minorities soon.”

Richey, who is white, told police the post was a joke, according to the charges. But students didn’t take it that way. Four Marysville Pilchuck students immediately contacted the school about the post. It allegedly showed Richey’s left hand holding a silver gun that looked like a semiautomatic weapon, except for a bit of orange coloring near the muzzle indicating it was a BB gun. One student reported she believed the gun was real. She told police she felt fear because she’s a person of color. Another expressed a similar fear of harm.

Marysville Pilchuck High School was the site of a 2014 shooting that left five dead, including the perpetrator. Prosecutors argue that, with this history, it was reasonable to fear harm.

“A quick view of the image would lead a reasonable individual to believe the firearm was real as it is consistent with a semiautomatic pistol in appearance,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Jacqueline Lawrence wrote in the charging papers.

The January threat on Snapchat was not an isolated incident. In May 2016, Richey was accused of a racial slur against a classmate. He denied using the term in question, but conceded he used another racial slur. A year later, he allegedly threatened another high school student, saying he was going to shoot up the school and naming specific students. Investigations found he made similar threats weeks earlier while making a clay gun in an art class, as well. After this incident, he also said he was joking and reportedly said he wouldn’t make jokes like that anymore, according to charging papers.

In mid-December, the true owner of the Snapchat account reportedly used a racial slur during a virtual class meeting and said all Black people should be killed, according to court documents. Multiple students reported the incident, which was investigated by the Marysville Police Department. The student faced disciplinary action from the school and completed a diversion program through the Snohomish County Juvenile Court. This made one student fear the January social media post might be a real threat.

The series of incidents combined to create an uproar in Marysville schools over the past year. Local leaders hosted a rally in April calling for accountability. The teachers union voted overwhelmingly to express “no confidence” in the district’s Board of Directors.

JJ Frank, a parent of students in the school district, said Tuesday morning people shouldn’t be let off the hook just because they say their threat is a joke.

“I do believe this is the right message to send to the families of color in Snohomish County,” said Frank, the executive director of the Marysville YMCA. “As a family of color who have been traumatized through their children being threatened while trying to get a public education in Snohomish County, we as a community need to hold students and adults accountable when they threaten other people’s lives.”

Court records suggest Richey has never been convicted of a felony. Prosecutors did not object to allowing him to remain out of custody. This comes with the conditions that he not possess guns or deadly weapons, contact Marysville Pilchuck High School or violate any other law.

His arraignment is set for Aug. 5.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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