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Threat against Wayne Co. canvasser leads to federal charges for N.H. woman

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Federal prosecutors Wednesday filed charges against a New Hampshire woman accused of texting threats to the chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers following the presidential election and sending photos of a bloody mutilated female body. 

Katelyn Jones, 23, a former Olivet resident who lives in Epping, was charged with threatening violence through interstate commerce following an FBI investigation that probed lingering fallout from President Donald Trump's defeat and baseless allegations about voting irregularities.

William Hartmann, left, and chairwoman Monica Palmer at the Wayne County Board of Canvassers meeting, which addressed the certification of the Nov. 3 election in Detroit on Nov. 17, 2020.

The criminal complaint and an FBI affidavit filed in federal court describe threats made against Monica Palmer, chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, after the Republican canvasser voted against certifying the election results. Palmer faced intense scrutiny over her decision to decline certification, then certify and then attempt to rescind her vote on the final certification of roughly 878,000 votes in Michigan's largest county.

"The allegations in this case should make all of us disgusted,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement. “There is simply no place in Michigan, or in the United States, for chilling threats like this to people who are simply doing what they believe is correct.”

Palmer declined to comment Wednesday.

The alleged threats come amid a period of extreme behavior directed toward public figures and elected leaders stemming from the election and anger over state restrictions on travel and business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jones was charged two months after FBI agents say they thwarted an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and kill police officers.

In all, 14 people have been charged in the alleged kidnapping plot with state and federal crimes. Authorities say the plot involved training and planning by a militia group known as the Wolverine Watchmen to kidnap Whitmer and storm Michigan's Capitol in Lansing.

Jones was released on bond Wednesday after a brief appearance during a videoconference in federal court in New Hampshire. She said little beyond answering standard questions from U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Johnstone, who barred her from having any contact with victims or potential witnesses in the case.

She is expected to attend a Jan. 13 videoconference in federal court in Detroit.

The threat charge filed against Jones is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

Jeff Levin, her court-appointed lawyer, declined comment.

On Nov. 18, Palmer received multiple threatening texts from an unknown person who utilized a cellphone with a 269 area code.

"Damn it was not hard finding all of your information disgusting racist b----," one text read. "I don't tolerate people like you, in fact I consider you to be a terrorist and do you know what happens to terrorist," the text read, adding Palmer's name.

“The messages were immediately followed by two graphic photographs of a bloody, deceased, nude, mutilated woman, lying on the ground,” FBI Special Agent Emily Munchiando wrote in the affidavit.

Investigators traced the phone number to the app TextMe Inc. Company records showed the 269 phone number account was created 10 minutes before Palmer received the first threatening message.

FBI agents tracked the IP address used to create the TextMe account. The IP address subscriber was Jones' mother, Linda Jones, in New Hampshire, according to the affidavit.

"Therefore, the account that used (269) xxx-xx68 that sent threatening text messages to (Palmer) was created at Linda Jones' residence," the FBI agent wrote.

Palmer also received threatening messages on her Instagram page on Nov. 18 from a user named "_etfere." The user posted Palmer's address, phone number and husband's phone number.

"Feel free to leave these disgusting racist (sic) a nice little message on their voicemail or for more fun stop by their house," the post read.

"Racist terrorist b----," read another post. 

"Your daughter is beautiful," read another post that included a photo of Palmer, her daughter and husband. "I'd (sic) be a shame if something happened to her. Hmmm I'd (sic) be a shame if something happened to your daughter at school."

The FBI agent concluded the texts messages and Instagram posts were sent by the same person because they used similar terms, including the words terrorist and racist, and identified Palmer's daughter and husband.

"Both threatened harm to (Palmer's) daughter," the agent wrote. 

Investigators discovered the Instagram account was linked to a second account that featured photographs of a woman. Agents concluded the photos were of Jones based on the number of photos and other information and the pictures matched her Michigan driver's license photo, according to the affidavit.

The FBI started surveilling Katelyn Jones on Dec. 10, almost one month after the threats against Palmer.

That morning, outside Linda Jones' home, an FBI agent spotted a white woman wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt with the hood covering her face. The woman appeared to be Katelyn Jones, according to the affidavit.

Agents raided the New Hampshire home Tuesday and found Katelyn Jones inside the house.

She admitted creating the TextMe account and using it to send the threatening texts, according to the affidavit.

Katelyn Jones also said she was the only person who used the Instagram account and admitted posting threats because Palmer was "interfering with the election," according to the FBI agent.

After the election, Palmer revealed that she had received threatening messages that she forwarded to Grosse Pointe Woods police and the FBI.

"Not only has my home and my family been threatened, my employer has been threatened," Palmer said. "There are businesses that I shared a Tweet months ago for a giveaway for a wedding dress. That bridal shop is being harassed and threatened at this point. Where does it end?"

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.