Justin Lamar Coleman has struck a deal via Assistant Federal Defender Paula Voss to plead guilty to a federal charge of mailing threatening communications for six letters he sent last year between July and December, including to the daughter of the pastor of Overcoming Believers Church in East Knoxville. Authorities found an unsent letter, also graphically threatening and addressed to Pastor Daryl Arnold, in Coleman's home on Overton Lane, U.S. District Court records show.
Neither Arnold nor his daughter knew Coleman or the body shop owner Coleman impersonated, but the letters were drafted around the same time Arnold was taking a lead role in the black community in discussing gang violence in the wake of the high-profile shooting death of a Fulton High School football player, Zaevion Dobson.
According to court records, including the plea agreement filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kolman, Coleman's threatening letter campaign has its roots in a heated exchange between Coleman and Jeff McCown, owner of McCown Body Shop on Lovell Road, in October 2010.
Coleman’s vehicle “got stuck in the grass” as Coleman drove onto the body shop property, Kolman wrote. Coleman’s efforts to get his truck back on the concrete damaged the grassy area of McCown’s business. He reacted angrily, yelling at Coleman, “Why the (expletive) didn’t you stay on the concrete?”
Coleman called police, claiming McCown had thrown rocks and sticks at him. The plea agreement stated there was no proof of that, and no charges were filed.
McCown thought that was the end of it. But FBI agent K.T. Harper wrote in a complaint that Coleman apparently had been stewing over the encounter and in the fall of 2015 launched a Facebook attack on McCown's business reputation. McCown ignored it.
Beginning in July, Coleman launched another attack on McCown's reputation, sending letters to black citizens including a former co-worker posing as McCown and claiming to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
“The defendant wrote the letters as if McCown was the author, daring the recipients of the letters or their family members to come to the body shop to fight McCown,” Kolman wrote.
As the letters were showing up in mailboxes, Coleman twice vandalized McCown's business sign, using orange spray paint to write a profanity on it, Harper wrote.
In December, Arnold's daughter received a letter in which Coleman again claimed to be McCown.
“Tell your daddy Daryl to come to my paint and body shop call (sic) Jeff McCown. I wrote this letter (racial slur) … I hate (expletive, racial slur). I’m coming to your house to rape you. I’m going to get a chainsaw and cut your legs off and then cut your head off, black nasty (slur),” the letter stated.
He then threatened to castrate her father.
“I am a very racist white man and with Mr. Trump in the White House being the Prisdent (sic) white people going to take over the world,” the letter stated.
Later that month, McCown himself received a letter. In this one, Harper wrote, Coleman claimed to be another Knoxville resident and threatened to kill McCown and burn down his house.
Harper was able to link Coleman to the letters in large part because of the report Coleman filed against McCown with the Knox County Sheriff's Office in that original 2010 verbal dust-up.
Coleman is free under house arrest pending a hearing date for his guilty plea over Kolman's objections, who argued he was dangerous. Testimony indicated Coleman suffers a mental illness. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton ordered Coleman to receive mental health treatment.