MILWAUKEE — A 61-year-old white Milwaukee man accused of throwing acid on a Hispanic man’s face has been charged with a hate crime, increasing the possible sentence he may receive if convicted.
Prosecutors filed one charge Wednesday against Clifton Blackwell — first-degree reckless injury — but added the sentencing enhancers of hate crime and use of a dangerous weapon. The two enhancers could add 10 years to his sentence if he’s convicted of first-degree reckless injury, which is punishable by up to 25 years of prison and extended supervision.
The victim, Mahud Villalaz, 42, said his attacker approached him near a restaurant Friday night and confronted him about being parked too close to a bus stop, according to charging documents. Prosecutors said Blackwell then asked, “Why did you invade my country?” and “Why don’t you respect my laws?”
Villalaz said he moved his car but that Blackwell continued to berate him, calling him “illegal” and telling him to “go back, go back,” followed by an expletive. Villalaz said he called Blackwell a racist, also using an expletive. Villalaz said Blackwell threw the acid on him after Villalaz said “everyone come from somewhere first” and that American Indians had been in the country the longest.
Surveillance video from the restaurant recorded the attack, which left Villalaz with second-degree burns on his face.
Villalaz is a U.S. citizen who immigrated from Peru.
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Blackwell made his first court appearance Wednesday to be advised of the charges he faces. Bond was set at $20,000, but it’s on the condition he wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. He’s still being held at the Milwaukee County jail. His public defender did not return a call.
The attack on Villalaz comes at a time when the Anti-Defamation League says extreme anti-immigrant views have become part of the political mainstream in recent years through sharp rhetoric by anti-immigration groups and politicians, including President Donald Trump.
Investigators who searched Blackwell’s home found among other things four bottles of sulfuric acid, muriatic acid, and two bottles of Kleen-Out drain opener that was 100% lye, according to the search warrant. Additional conditions for his bond are that he have no contact with acids or large batteries, or possess dangerous weapons or firearms. His next court appearance is Nov. 15.
Before filing the charge, Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm said during an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio that his office was looking to determine whether the attack was motivated “in whole or in part” based on the victim’s race. He said prosecutors would look “very closely first at the underlying offenses and then we’ll make a determination whether the facts support the hate crime.”
“But it’s obviously a concern to many people not just in this community but really around the country right now,” he said.
Just as Blackwell was in court, Villalaz spoke briefly to reporters to say he was pleased with the charge and thankful for “the people that have worried about me.” He said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, called him to say she was “very sad” about what happened and offered to help however she can.
State court records show Blackwell was convicted in a 2006 Rusk County case of false imprisonment and pointing a gun at a person in a case where he held four hunters at gunpoint because they were on his property.