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Texan gets 6 months for threats to Maryland vaccine advocate

August 24, 2022 GMT

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Texas man was sentenced to six months in federal prison Tuesday for threatening a Maryland doctor who has been a prominent advocate for COVID-19 vaccines, a federal prosecutor said.

Scott Eli Harris, 52, of Aubrey, Texas, pleaded guilty in February to threats transmitted by interstate communication. U.S. Attorney for Maryland Erek L. Barron announced the sentence, which will be followed by three years of supervised release, in a news release Wednesday.

“While we are all entitled to our own opinion, no one has the right to threaten the life of someone because of race, national origin, or because of holding different views,” Barron said in a statement. “Threats like these will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

According to Harris’ plea agreement and statements made in connection with the plea hearing, Harris sent a threatening message from his cellphone to the doctor. Court documents identify the doctor only as “Dr. L. W., who had been a vocal proponent of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

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Harris’ message included violent statements, such as: “Never going to take your wonder drug. My 12 gauge promises I won’t. .… I can’t wait for the shooting to start.” Harris’ message also made reference to the doctor’s Asian American background and national origin.

“Mr. Harris has expressed deep and sincere remorse for his actions, and he has provided the U.S. Attorney’s Office with a heartfelt apology letter to share with the victim,” Assistant Federal Public Defender Cynthia A. Frezzo said in an email, noting that his arrest and supervision have allowed Harris, a disabled veteran, to get mental health care he needed. “At the time of the offense, Mr. Harris was in the throes of undiagnosed, service-related mental illness.”

They are disappointed that prosecutors requested incarceration, but Harris “understands the seriousness of his actions and why the Court felt the need to impose a period of incarceration to deter others from engaging in similar conduct,” Frezzo said.