Maxine Waters tells judge of 'nightmares' after Texas man threatened to cut her throat

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- FRIDAY, JANUARY 24, 2020: Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43) hosts a community meeting to discuss the recent Delta Airlines Flight #89 fuel dump over Los Angeles County schools and communities at Los Angeles Southwest College Little Theater Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. The meeting featured local officials and representatives from the Los Angeles County and City Fire Departments, Los Angeles County Health Department, and Los Angeles Unified School District who discussed the fuel dump and answered questions from concerned members of the community. A mobile medical clinic was on-site to provide medical evaluations of residents who may have been exposed to jet fuel or fumes. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Rep. Maxine Waters hosts a community meeting in 2020. A judge has sentenced a Houston man to nearly three years in prison for making threatening phone calls to her office. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Rep. Maxine Waters stood at the lectern in front of a federal judge to tell him of the nightmares that stemmed from a Texas man’s threats, including one to cut her throat.

Waters told U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner on Monday that her family members — several of whom were present in the Los Angeles courtroom — live “in fear every day” due to violent threats made by Brian Michael Gaherty, a Houston resident.

Gaherty, 61, pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to one count of threatening a United States official. In his plea agreement, he admitted to threatening to assault and murder Waters in phone calls he made in 2022, in which he repeatedly referenced the congresswoman’s race and used racial slurs.

“This growing effort to target people of color and women of color ... has given me nightmares. I am in fear of my life,” said Waters (D-Los Angeles), who is Black.

“I believe that we must all be accountable,” she added. “Nobody is above the law.”

Klausner agreed, sentencing Gaherty on Monday to nearly three years in prison and fining him $10,000. Finding that Gaherty had targeted Waters due to her race, the judge applied a hate-crime enhancement to the sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

Gaherty’s attorneys, who had asked the judge to sentence their client to time served, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. As U.S. marshals prepared to take Gaherty away, he told reporters he was “sorry this happened” and added, “I have no hatred in my heart.”

“Threats to harm or kill elected officials are anathema to our nation’s values and must not — and will not — be tolerated,” U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said in a news release Monday. “My office and the entire Department of Justice will continue to combat threats against public officials and other attempts to chill democracy.”

In his plea agreement, Gaherty admitted to making threats against Waters four times in 2022 — twice on Aug. 8, once on Nov. 8 and once on Nov. 10. On Aug. 8, around 11 p.m., Gaherty called Waters’ Hawthorne office and left an expletive-filled voicemail, accusing her of messing “with my people” and saying, “I’mma cut your throat,” according to the agreement.

In his voicemails, Gaherty talked about putting “a cap” between Waters’ eyes and threatened to “stomp” her. He also warned that she “better move” because he and his “boys in the area” had a contract on her life.

Gaherty was arrested in April 2023 after prosecutors filed a criminal complaint outlining the threats to Waters and alleging Gaherty had threatened other elected officials and a news reporter in Houston. A grand jury later indicted Gaherty on federal charges.

In court, Gaherty’s attorney, Joseph Vinas, said his client had mental health issues and recounted a “litany of horrible incidents” that had affected him. Vinas said Gaherty was injured on the job and later laid off, and had been shot in the back at one point while in his driveway.

Vinas said Gaherty’s threats against Waters “were not credible,” and there was no evidence “that he ever came out here to Los Angeles or went out to Washington, D.C.”

“He never did anything to even attempt to follow up on these threats,” Vinas said.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Laura A. Alexander said that Waters didn’t realize Gaherty was “sitting in Texas” when he called her and that she had no way of initially knowing whether the threats were credible. Alexander said Gaherty had also threatened a Latina congresswoman.

Hearing Gaherty wanted to “slit my throat,” Waters told the judge, has unnerved her. She described herself as “haunted.”

When someone calls her name out from behind, she said, she doesn’t answer because she doesn’t know whether that person is trying to identify her “so that they can kill [her].”

“I came here today because I want to understand; I want to know why we have people with that much hatred and that much dislike of people of color,” Waters said.

When Gaherty spoke, he clasped his hands and turned to Waters, who sat on a bench in the front row, and said, “I’m sorry for what I did.” He said it was “not about race,” and told the court that his godchildren are Black and that he’s had five Latina girlfriends.

After the judge handed down his sentence, Waters hugged her family members and told Alexander she’d done “a good job.”

“I’m hopeful that this will be a deterrent to those who believe they can threaten an elected official, threaten to kill us and terrorize us,”Waters said outside the courtroom. “I really think this goes a long way to holding him accountable.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.