Fourth of July terrorism suspect pleads guilty to plotting attack and threatening the President Trump
A man whom the FBI said planned an attack on a downtown Cleveland park where spectators planned to watch last year’s Independence Day fireworks pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges.
Demetrius Pitts admitted to charges of attempting to provide material support to the terrorist group al-Qaida, as well as making threats against President Donald Trump and his children.
Pitts, 50, has agreed to serve 14 years in federal prison followed by a lifetime of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. will sentence him Feb. 11.
The FBI announced Pitts’ arrest two days before the Fourth of July in 2018. It came after Pitts corresponded with an undercover agent and scoped out areas at and near Voinovich Park to carry out an attack.
Pitts hails from Cincinnati but was living at a Maple Heights rehabilitation facility at the time of his arrest. He was on the FBI’s radar before he was in the Cleveland area.
Pitts has said in court that he suffers from mental health issues. He had two previous attorneys before the court appointed his current lawyer Justin Roberts. Regardless, he said Tuesday that he understood everything Oliver told him as the judge walked him through the plea agreement.
Still, Pitts exhibited a few quirks during Tuesday’s hearing. When he raised his right hand to be sworn in, he gave a middle finger before moving all his fingers into the same position, a gesture noticed by prosecutors, FBI agents and others in the viewing gallery.
In addition, when Oliver asked Pitts whether he saw a certain court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Baeppler stood up and offered some clarification. Pitts responded, “he was talking to me, excuse me.”
Otherwise, Pitts answered the questions the judge asked and acknowledged what he was giving up by pleading guilty. He frequently asked questions but ultimately said he had committed the crimes.
U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said in a news release that Pitts “planned to inflict pain and terror on the day we celebrate our nation’s most cherished freedoms.”
Roberts declined comment after the hearing.
The statements the FBI said Pitts, who also goes by Abdur Raheem Rafeeq and Salahadeen Osama Waleed, made about violent attacks or an allegiance to al-Qaida were mostly to agents or confidential informants, according to court filings. An informant gave Pitts a bus pass to travel downtown and scope out potential targets, as well as a cellphone he later used to text an undercover agent, authorities said.
He told an undercover agent that he wanted to “destroy the government,” and had expressed a desire to kill Americans, according to federal prosecutors.
Pitts also said he wanted to cut off Trump’s head and hands and kill Trump’s children and son-in-law, according to a grand jury indictment.
He has criminal convictions stretching back to 1989, including for robbery, domestic violence and theft.
While authorities have said they arrested Pitts to prevent violence, they haven’t said whether Pitts was actually capable of carrying out an attack. Then-FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony declined to say during a news conference announcing Pitts’ arrest whether the suspect had access to, or was capable of making, an explosive.
Instead, Anthony said Pitts had the “desire and intent” to conduct the attack.
Pitts was set to plead guilty to a terrorism charge in February, but Oliver refused to take his plea because the judge felt Pitts was denying the charge against him.