Feds charge Mich. man with leaving nooses, notes targeting BLM supporters

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Michigan man has been charged with hate crimes for trying to intimidate residents supporting Black Lives Matter in 2020, federal officials announced Wednesday.

Kenneth Pilon, 61, a former Michigan optometrist, was charged in an information filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

That type of charge typically indicates a guilty plea is expected. Six counts of violating federally protected activities were listed. Punishment varies from a fine or up to a year in prison, according to the FBI.

According to an affidavit signed by a FBI special agent, Pilon is accused of calling nine Starbucks stores in eastern Michigan on June 14, 2020, and telling employees who answered to tell coworkers wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts that “the only good (racial epithet) is a dead (racial epithet).”

The calls, which also targeted stores in Ann Arbor, Allen Park and Oak Park, came days after Starbucks announced it was producing about 250,000 T-shirts expressing support for the movement amid outcries over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

In one of those calls, to a location in Bay County, Pilon allegedly used a racial slur again when telling a staffer he planned to lynch someone, according to the court filing.

Then, between June 22, 2020, and July 17, 2020, he is accused of leaving nooses in Goodwill, Walmart and Kroger parking lots as well as in a cooler at a 7-Eleven, all in Saginaw. Each was attached to a handwritten note reading: “An accessory to be worn with your ‘BLM’ t-shirt. Happy protesting!”

Authorities reported Pilon also left a noose with the same message on July 12, 2020, in a couple's car "for the purpose of issuing a threat."

Regina Simon, a Saginaw resident, said on Facebook that her husband, who is Black, found the note and noose the day after she wore a BLM T-shirt at home.

Pilon "intimidated and attempted to intimidate citizens from

participating lawfully in speech and peaceful assembly opposing the denial of Black people’s right to enjoy police protection and services free from brutality," federal officials said in the information.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Turkelson for the Eastern District of Michigan and Trial Attorney Tara Allison of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.

"The charges in the information are merely allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law," the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday.

Neither Pilon nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.

Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs records show Pilon had an optometrist license from August 1987 through June 2016, when it expired.

He also worked at a Pearle Vision in Saginaw, records show.