An Iowa man was sentenced on Monday after pleading guilty to charges of intimidation with a dangerous weapon and willful injury. Specifically, shooting his gun into a car full of teenage Black girls, injuring one, after an Iowa rally in support of Donald Trump in December, the Associated Press reported. Identified as Michael McKinney, the 26-year-old pleaded guilty in June and has been in custody since his arrest at the scene. Under Iowa law, there is no minimum sentence. The judge in this case has ordered that both sentences be served concurrently; both charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
According to authorities, the incident was sparked when rally participants began exchanging insults with the girls in the car. The girls’ car was backed up behind a pickup truck with Trump supporters surrounding it. McKinney—an Army veteran who was not only wearing body armor but carrying several firearms—shot into the car, hitting the then 15-year-old girl in the leg.
The victim had been standing in the car’s open sunroof when the bullet pierced through her skin. “Had she been seated, rather than standing, she could have been 16 and forever remained 16, had she been struck," prosecutor Olu Salami said, according to the Des Moines Register.
According to a search warrant, McKinney told police officials he "shot because he felt he was in danger and was protecting himself.” How he felt he was in danger of a girl standing in her own car while he was fully armed is unclear.
"I believed I was going to die the day I was shot. I didn’t know if I would be able to walk again," she wrote, adding later "I’m a 16-year-old young lady and would love to love myself, but it’s hard when I look at my scars and remember the events of Dec. 6, 2020,” the victim said in a statement read to the court Monday. She described the physical and mental trauma she faced in addition to the fear of not knowing whether she would be able to walk again.
In response to her statement, McKinney apologized sharing that he wishes he could undo his actions.
"I used poor judgment on this matter," he said. "I want to truly and deeply express how sorry I am.”
McKinney has been in custody since his arrest. According to the AP, authorities had first downplayed the political and racial context of the shooting, claiming the altercation was sparked by a traffic dispute. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone declined to pursue hate crime charges for the shooting, claiming that a state hate crime charge would have carried a much shorter sentence than the other charges filed.
Trump supporters criticized both McKinney’s arrest and charges arguing that his shot protected rally-goers. The rally the shooting took place at consisted of advocates of the "Stop the Steal" movement and a majority of white individuals.
They also used his attendance at pro-police “Back the Blue” rallies as a reason he should not be arrested.
"For those trying to argue this was deserved, what they do not realize is that bullet could have ricocheted and killed somebody—not just the victim and those in the car, but anyone around," Salami said, noting that the crime is "a day that forever changes the life of the young victim in this case."
Despite the prosecutor’s pleas that Judge Scott Beattie make the two terms McKinney must serve consecutive for a total maximum of 20 years, the judge used McKinney's lack of criminal history and honorable discharge from the military factors in his favor. He chose to run the two sentences concurrently for a maximum of 10 years.
"I will be quite honest: I’m still perplexed as to how this happened," Beattie said. "I understand you’ve taken responsibility for it, and that’s an important factor."
Unfortunately, violence at Trump-supporting events is not uncommon. Trump’s use of xenophobic language and boost to move towards violence has resulted in a number of violent incidents nationwide. According to a book by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender, Trump even suggested targeting protestors using extreme military force several times. To date, more than 50 cases of violence have directly cited Trump as the influence and reason for the crime.
But that’s not all, it’s no surprise that McKinney was not sentenced to more given the laws GOP states like Iowa have in place for protestors and those opposing racism. Iowa is one of four states that currently have bills that grant immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and injure protesters in public streets.