Montana man gets 18 months in prison for racist phone calls to Black woman employed at church

Montana man gets 18 months in prison for racist phone calls to Black woman employed at church

Minnah Arshad

A Montana man who repeatedly made racist and threatening calls to a church for two years after he went there seeking help and received a gift card from a Black employee was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, prosecutors said.

Joshua Leon Hiestand, 41, a white man, was sentenced Friday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana. Hiestand pleaded guilty in June to making harassing telephone calls. A stalking charge was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Prosecutors alleged that Hiestand went to a church in Billings, Montana, looking for a job and money in November 2020. A Black woman, identified by prosecutors as Jane Doe, worked at the church and gave him a gift card. 

Days later, Hiestand left a voicemail for the woman, used a racial epithet, and said he would give more money to the church if it did not employ an African American person, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“When Hiestand, a white man, went to a Billings church looking for help, an elderly African American woman who worked there responded with kindness and assistance,” U.S. Attorney Laslovich said. “Hiestand launched a barrage of harassing hateful and racist calls and voicemails at her and the church. His racist conduct isn’t just abhorrent, it is illegal. We are better than this.”

Hiestand, according to court documents, continued to make racist, harassing calls to the woman and the church she worked at for nearly two years.”

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“The first message made me sick. I literally started shaking. What he said really frightened me. I get high anxiety when I listen to those messages,” the woman said in a statement to the court, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, adding that the messages contained racist rants and obscenities.

Harassing calls also made to HBCUs

In the weeks following their initial encounter, Hiestand’s calls escalated, officials said. In one voicemail, he said, “Nobody wants you here.”

After a few similar calls, the woman contacted the Billings Police Department, and officers identified Hiestand as the caller, who later apologized for his conduct in a phone interview with law enforcement, court filings said. He was told to have no further contact with the church. Three days later, he left a voicemail with the church to which he apologized.

But Hiestand’s racist calls to the woman and the church she worked at continued for the next 19 months, according to prosecutors. In August 2021, he left another voicemail using a racial epithet and said the “world is going to end because of your black a– race,” according to court documents.

“Over and over again, and despite being warned and contacted by law enforcement, Hiestand lobbed voicemails and direct phone conversations with Jane Doe that invoked her race and projected absolute animus towards her and her employer because of the color of her skin,” U.S. Attorneys said in court filings.

Hiestand also placed calls last year to historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, in the southern United States, prosecutors said and made “similarly threatening and racially motivated statements” like the ones directed at the woman. An investigation determined those calls were made from outside Montana.

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Hiestand’s public defender sought a time-served sentence, arguing his mental health and substance use issues affected his judgment, as he was not taking his mental health medication and “feels remorse for his conduct,” Attorney Gillian Gosch said in court documents.

He was sentenced to one year of supervised release following prison time and $617 restitution. A stalking charge was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

The Bureau of Prisons will decide whether Hiestand will receive credit for the 11 months he has already been in custody, officials said. As of Monday, Hiestand remained at the Yellowstone County jail.

A catalyst for childhood obesity: How racism has ‘huge implications’ for health trajectory

Most Americans say racism is a problem

A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll earlier this year found more than four-fifths of Americans think racism is a problem.

More than 45% said it is a big problem or the biggest problem facing the United States. Another 38% said racism was a problem but not one of the biggest. About 14% of Americans said racism is not a problem.

An overwhelming 79% of Black Americans said racism is either the biggest problem or a problem in the U.S., according to the survey. That far exceeded the 39% of whites and 46% of Hispanics who said the same. Not a single Black respondent in the poll said racism was not a problem.

Survey: Nearly every American endorses racial equality. It’s how to get there that divides us.

Contributing: Phillip M. Bailey and Terry Collins, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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