A Texas man pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to making threats to former Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen because of her COVID-19 vaccine advocacy.
Scott Eli Harris, of Aubrey, Texas, now faces a maximum of five years in federal prison, though his attorney and federal prosecutors will debate what sentence the judge should hand down. Taking into consideration criminal history and other factors, actual sentences are usually less than the maximum.
With his plea Monday, Harris admitted sending a threatening email to Wen in July. His email included ethnic slurs, other offensive language and referenced violence, according to his indictment.
“Never going to take your wonder drug. My 12-gauge promises I won’t,” Harris wrote. “I’m a 5th generation U.S. Army veteran and a sniper. I can’t wait for the shooting to start.”
Harris demanded in his email to know where Wen’s office was.
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“Mr. Harris is embarrassed by his conduct and sincerely apologizes for the harm he has caused,” said Harris’ attorney, federal public defender Elizabeth Oyer, after the hearing.
Wen, who regularly appears on CNN as a medical analyst, has been a vocal proponent of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The inoculations are critical to stemming the coronavirus pandemic, according to public health experts like Wen, as they dramatically reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death in people who contract COVID-19.
Assistant U.S. Attorney P Michael Cunningham said in court Monday that Wen promptly forwarded Harris’ threatening email to the FBI, which began an investigation.
Federal agents traced the email address and message back to Harris, who sent the email from his cell phone in Texas.
Harris is released under the supervision of pretrial services pending his sentence, which has not yet been scheduled, according to court records.
U.S. Magistrate Judge A. David Copperthite agreed to modify to Harris’ supervision last month. According to his order, Harris is not longer prohibited from having a cell phone, so long as he provides all the information about it to pretrial services, which can inspect the phone at any time.