Prosecutors say a man was motivated by racial hatred when he hurled racial slurs at a black woman smoking a cigarette outside their shared residence, a boarding house on Gold Street, and threatened to beat her with a baseball bat, which was found in his room when he was arrested by police on Wednesday.
Police believe the Caucasian suspect, 32-year-old Alexander Libbrecht, who just moved to Juneau about a month ago, is also tied to several other racial incidents reported recently, including an incident that marred Celebration, Sealaska’s biennial celebration of Native Alaska culture, where a man yelled racial epithets at the crowd and stole a flag, as well as another incident where someone yelled obscenities at a Native Alaska man and threw a lit cigarette through his open car window.
The accusations again Libbrecht — all of which he adamantly denies — extend well beyond the corridors of Alaska’s capital city, even as far as the White House, according to a Juneau assistant city attorney arguing for a high bail amount during Libbrecht’s arraignment in Juneau District Court on Thursday.
Libbrecht has been investigated by the U.S. Secret Service three times in the past four years for threatening to kill President Obama out of racial hatred; is presently being investigated by New Jersey law enforcement for threatening to kill his public defender and blow up a courthouse; has or had a stalking order out against him in Hawaii for threatening a prosecutor; and has a $100,000 warrant out for his arrest in Hawaii for failing to appear in court for an assault case where he is accused of throwing large rocks at beach-goers. That’s all according to an audio recording of the testimony Assistant City Prosecutor Sherri Petticrew presented to Judge Thomas Nave last week, intended to portray Libbrecht as a danger to the public.
Petticrew also argued that the judge should deny a request to refer Libbrecht to the Juneau Mental Health Court, which focuses on treatment and rehabilitation for repeat offenders with mental health issues facing a city misdemeanor. Court documents indicate the defendant’s mother, who lives in Michigan, had requested to see if Libbrecht was eligible, saying he has schizophrenia and refuses to take his medicine. The appointed public defender for the city, Tom Wagner, did not have any comment.
Nave ordered the defendant, who protested throughout the hearing that he was neither a racist, a threat to society nor mentally ill, be held in custody at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in lieu of $25,000 bail ($15,000 appearance bond and a $10,000 performance bond). Nave also appointed the city’s public defender to represent Libbrecht who said he is not employed.
Libbrecht was irritated well before he encountered the woman smoking outside the Gold Street boarding house, near the Mendenhall Tower Apartments, at about 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to JPD Lt. Kris Sell.
In a phone interview Monday, Sell said Libbrecht told JPD that he had finished eating at a Japanese restaurant across from the federal building (presumably, Seong’s Sushi Bar) when he encountered a woman on the street “who refused to get out of his way.” Sell said he yelled at the startled woman, who then moved, allowing him to pass.
Apparently stewing, Libbrecht worked his way up to Main Street. Police a short time later received a call from a man who reported that a man was kicking construction signs and traffic barricades, as well as a scooter, on Main Street. The caller told police that he asked the man what was wrong, and the man (whom police say was Libbrecht) replied that he had a grenade. Libbrecht then apparently faked a motion to mimic throwing a grenade at the doors of the Capitol Building. In reality, he only threw the fortune that was inside a fortune cookie he received at the sushi bar, Sell said.
After that, he happened upon the woman outside, who has lived in Juneau for 12 years but had just moved into the house two days prior, according to a statement she made in court during Libbrecht’s arraignment. He had threatened her a day or two earlier, repeatedly calling her the same obscene word and saying she doesn’t belong in the house, she said. She ignored him, put the cigarette out and went back inside, she said.
The night of the incident in question, she said she had just returned home from work, went outside to smoke and Libbrecht was already outside. He again began using slurs and told her she doesn’t belong in the house, she said.
“‘You don’t belong in the house, you’re going to be homeless, I’m going to make sure of it,’” the woman recalled him saying.
Then, he threatened her.
“He asked if anybody could give him a bat so he could just start beating the n*****’s brains out,” the woman told the judge in court, audibly crying.
The woman had her cell phone in hand and immediately called 911. Dispatchers told her to get to a safe place immediately, while patrol officers responded to the scene. The woman dashed to a local business, and officers met up with her.
“I just was scared to death,” the woman told Judge Nave, noting she was not hurt physically. “I never had an encounter like this. Juneau has been a very friendly town to me for 12 years, I never had a problem with anyone.”
Libbrecht, meanwhile, had retreated into his room, police said. Police officers attempted to make contact with him for about an hour before he finally came out, police said.
Lt. Sell said that a Secret Service agent, who had been to Juneau just days before to question Libbrecht about threatening the president, helped persuade Libbrecht to come out of the room and to cooperate with police. Sell said Libbrecht called the agent from the room, which then prompted the Secret Service to call JPD.
“It was high drama,” Sell said.
Libbrecht was arrested via a citizen’s complaint filed by the woman, a victim of what city prosecutors consider hate speech. The misdemeanor assault charge alleges that Libbrecht recklessly placed another person in fear of imminent physical injury “by words or other conduct.”
“It is a hate crime,” Petticrew said in court. “It’s a fear assault.”
Petticrew said police found a baseball bat in Libbrecht’s room, which she viewed as proof that Libbrecht intended to carry out his threat and that the victim’s fears were not unfounded.
That statement caused Libbrecht to interrupt the prosecutor in court to defend himself.
“That is absolutely not true!” Libbrecht said.
After Libbrecht was arrested, the Juneau Police Department received multiple phone calls from authorities in New Jersey, Hawaii and the Secret Service.
“All these different agencies reach(ed) out to us regarding his dangerousness, all of them saying his behavior is escalating,” Petticrew said in court.
Petticrew said that a few years ago, Libbrecht stalked a woman in New Jersey to the point where the woman left the country because she was so scared. The public defender in that case got him a pretty good deal, she noted, that involved parental involvement and “commitment” (presumably for mental health issues) in exchange for getting the conviction off his record and probation instead of incarceration.
After that, Libbrecht left for California, bought a sailboat and sailed to Hawaii. There, he was charged with “terroristic threatening assault charges” that stemmed from him throwing rocks at people on the beach, Petticrew said.
She said he was found incompetent to stand trial, then later failed to show up to a court hearing. He caught a plane to Hong Kong. That prompted a judge to issue a $100,000 warrant for his arrest, she said. (Now that Libbrecht is in custody, Sell said Hawaii does not want to extradite him. It’s not known at this point how that case will be handled.)
Petticrew said she was informed that just last week, Libbrecht called his former public defender in New Jersey — five or six years after the plea deal had been reached and the case closed — and threatened to kill him.
“I’ve listened to the voicemails, and they’re highly disturbing,” she said, adding that Libbrecht threatens to “cut him up, cut his wife up, to kill him.”
During those phone calls, Libbrecht also threatened to blow up the New Jersey courthouse, and to kill President Barack Obama, which spurred a Secret Service investigation.
A Secret Service agent, Jay Herren, testified during Thursday’s arraignment by phone. He said the New Jersey public defender contacted the agency last week and informed them that Libbrecht made threats to kill the president.
“He said, quote, I feel sorry for the president but that n***** is going to have to die, and I’m going to have to do it,” Herren testified.
He said that this was their third time Libbrecht has been on their radar. The service investigated him in 2010 and 2012 for similar statements about Obama.
Petticrew said Libbrecht also threatened the prosecutor in Hawaii. The prosecutor had to obtain a stalking protective order against Libbrecht, she said.
Lt. Sell testified on Thursday that she conducted a 30-minute phone interview with Libbrecht’s mother, who apparently told police that she has noticed a “marked deterioration” her son’s ability to function in the past week or two.
“They’re concerned about him being dangerous,” Sell told the judge. “He’s not welcome back at the family home in Michigan. ... If he came back to that area, she’s very concerned that he’s going to hurt people, a lot of people —”
Libbrecht cut Sell off at that point.
“Excuse me?” he asked, indignant. “That is absolutely untrue. My mother — ."
Sell then talked over him and said she’s worried about the safety of the victim of the hate speech and Petticrew, based on what the other agencies told her. Sell noted that Libbrecht’s mother told her that Libbrecht “spends all day on the Internet” fueled by his “racial hatred”, is “obsessed” toward Barack Obama.
“This is totally false,” Libbrecht repeated. “I’m not a racist. I’m not a racist.”
Juneau police now think Libbrecht is the suspect in a racially heated incident at Celebration, where a white man ripped an American flag out of the hands of a 67-year-old Alaska Native veteran.
The man reportedly yelled slurs at the veteran flag bearer (he called the victim and the crowd the same obscenity the woman outside the boarding house was called, Sell said) and attempted to spit on the flag and run away. A group of people wrestled the flag away from the man, and then he ran off, pushing over two people on the sidewalk in his path.
Sell said police previously were investigating another man for that crime, but that it was false lead.
“That took us down the wrong path,” Sell said, adding the other man — whose picture has been widely circulated on Facebook as the suspect — has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
No charges have been brought in that case yet. Sell said that’s because they are still working on putting together a photo line-up, which now they can do since they are expecting a booking photograph from the state of Alaska Department of Corrections.
“We’re trying as hard as we can to make the case,” she said.
The DOC did not respond to the Empire’s request on Monday for the booking photograph. The DOC’s policy leans toward the perceived privacy rights of prisoners, and as a matter of routine does not release images of inmates unless a prisoner has escaped. Neither the police department nor prosecutors alerted local media to the court arraignment in Juneau where his picture could have been taken.
Police expect to charge Libbrecht with misdemeanor disorderly conduct for taking the flag, and disorderly conduct and assault for injuring one of the woman he pushed out of his way.
“She was hurt,” Sell said. “She had a headache, and she was very frightened.”
Sell said Libbrecht actually came to the attention of the JPD prior to the Celebration incident, although they did not immediately suspect him. Libbrecht’s “very unusual behavior” and angry demeanor — including attacking traffic cones and barriers — stood out in Juneau’s small downtown area that two police officers patrol full-time.
Sell said Libbrecht’s mother said her son moved to Juneau sometime around May 26 or 27, and moved into the boarding house on June 1. The celebration incident took place on June 16, and another incident took place on July 1.
On July 1, a 58-year-old Alaska Native man reported that someone threw a lit cigarette through his open car window while it was parked on South Franklin.
The man reported the suspect was “in a rage,” Sell said and the description is consistent with Libbrecht.
“People have describing big eyes and teeth and someone just completely enraged, something you don’t normally see on a public street,” she said.
She noted the victim could not understand what the suspect was screaming at him, “but it was obvious that it wasn’t very nice based on his tone and body language.”
Sell said she has never heard of such racist allegations in her 17 years with the JPD.
“Not in my entire career have I seen anything of this nature,” she said. “I mean, we’re a relatively small town and to have overt racial incidents like this is very unusual, to have someone going around the initiating this level of confrontation is completely new to me to Juneau.”
Should Libbrecht be released, he will be required to a court-approved third-party custodian and he will be prohibited from contacting the woman on Gold Street and city prosecutors. The judge scheduled a trial to take place in September.