A black man who went on a violent rampage in California several years ago, wielding an axe and a knife and lighting strangers' hair on fire with a blowtorch, has been sentenced to complete a "diversion treatment" program for veterans rather than jail time.
On September 4, 2020, Brandon McGlone, who is now 49 but was then 46, used a can of WD-40 and a blowtorch to terrorize young men in a pizza shop and some Asian college students in a boba tea shop in Berkeley, California. According to reports, McGlone walked up to two men sitting in a pizza shop, knocked their food on the floor, sprayed them with WD-40, and threatened to ignite the chemical with the blowtorch in his hand.
Next, McGlone entered the Feng Cha Teahouse, where several UC Berkeley students were standing in line to place an order. Once he walked inside, McGlone sprayed the WD-40 in the direction of the students and turned on the blowtorch at the same time, causing an immediate combustion of fire. McGlone then left the establishment while his victims quickly doused the flames, thankfully avoiding serious injury.
Outside, area bystanders wrestled McGlone to the ground, but he continued to threaten more violence. At different times, he flashed a knife and an axe. When he was eventually arrested, police discovered several dangerous weapons on his person: "matches, two lighters, clothing that smelled of gasoline, a can of WD-40, and four glass bottles filled with gasoline subsequently identified as Molotov cocktails," court documents said.
There are also reports that he sprayed WD-40 at patrons of a Taco Bell in Cantina that same day as well. The patrons fled before McGlone could light them on fire.
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One witness at the tea shop that evening overheard McGlone make a disturbing noise, which she described as "an evil chuckle," before he set the young Asian men alight. Another man said McGlone told him, "If I don’t get to see my family tonight, someone else doesn’t get to see their family tonight." And indeed, McGlone had been isolated from his family at the time due to his violent outbursts. Just days before, McGlone had attacked his estranged wife, choking her and repeatedly striking her in the head with a gun and his fist. "It was the longest, scariest thing that has ever happened to me," the woman later testified in court.
On April 28, more than two and a half years after the incidents, McGlone was finally held to account for his actions. As an Air Force veteran who served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and who was honorably discharged, McGlone was allowed to face justice in Veterans Treatment Court, where he pled no contest to assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a destructive device, and three counts of assault with caustic chemicals in connection to the blowtorch incidents and assault with a firearm and carrying a loaded firearm in connection to the assault on his wife.
McGlone's public defenders never denied his culpability but attempted to incite sympathy for him by referencing his struggles to reintegrate into society after his military service. "McGlone’s service resulted in PTSD and substance abuse, for which he has sought and participated in treatment," attorney Emily Klein argued on his behalf. It is unclear whether the defense team mentioned that McGlone was also convicted of federal bank robbery in 1999, several years before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite McGlone's criminal history, his defense team appeared to have convinced Judge James Cramer, who sentenced McGlone to a "diversion treatment" program for military veterans rather than to prison. "He must successfully engage in and complete whatever course of therapy is prescribed by the treatment team and abide by whatever conditions are set forth," Cramer said. If McGlone meets those requirements, the charges against him will be dropped entirely. If he completes at least 18 months of the program, he will still likely avoid jail time and instead be placed on felony probation. If he fails to complete at least 18 months of treatment, "he could be terminated from the Veterans Treatment Court program and" face up to eight years behind bars, Cramer said.
Judge Cramer also agreed to the petition of 11 individuals, including McGlone's wife and their 11-year-old daughter, who sought protective orders against McGlone. Those protective orders will remain in place regardless of McGlone's ability to complete the diversion treatment program.
As of Monday, McGlone is no longer in custody. He is scheduled to appear in Veterans Treatment Court again on June 2.
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