A New York man has been arrested and charged with threatening to attack businesses in Buffalo just days after an accused white supremacist allegedly shot and killed 10 Black people at a grocery store there.
Joseph S. Chowaniec, 52, is accused of making threatening phone calls to two restaurants in the City of Buffalo on Sunday, forcing one of them to close.
“It is alleged that on Sunday, May 15, 2022, at approximately 12:05 p.m., the defendant made a phone call to a pizzeria located on Delaware Avenue in the City of Buffalo,” the Erie County District Attorney’s Office said in a press release Monday. “The defendant allegedly spoke with an employee and made a threat with the intent to intimidate or coerce that created a reasonable expectation of fear. The pizzeria closed for the day after the alleged incident.”
Within the hour, Chowaniec allegedly called a second location, making threats that were similarly intimidating.
“It is further alleged that on Sunday, May 15, 2022, at approximately 12:47 p.m., the defendant placed a second phone call to a brewery located in downtown Buffalo,” the press release says. “The defendant allegedly spoke with an employee and made a threat with the intent to intimidate or coerce that created a reasonable expectation of fear.”
According to local CBC affiliate WIVB, Chowaniec allegedly called Bocce Pizza and, as he complained about a pizza made earlier in the week, threatened to “shoot up Bocce’s like the Tops on Jefferson.”
WIVB identified Chowaniec’s second alleged target as the Southern Tier Brewing Company in Downtown Buffalo.
Any resemblance to Sunday’s grocery store attack, officials say, was intentional.
“In both alleged threats, the defendant allegedly made a reference to the shooting that occurred at Tops Friendly Markets on Jefferson Avenue in the City of Buffalo,” the press release said.
According to the WIVB report, Buffalo Police had seen Chowaniec on the street before arresting him and said no suspicious activity was observed at the time. Police reportedly described Chowaniec as a white man holding a sign reading “Uncle Sam dismantle white supremacy.”
His criminal history reportedly includes an arrest in 2008 for impersonating an officer and robbing a victim in an SUV, according to WIVB, citing a 2008 Buffalo News report.
Chowaniec is charged with one count of making a terrorist threat, a felony. He faces a maximum seven years in prison if convicted.
“This defendant is accused of making threatening phone calls to businesses and referencing this horrific shooting as the entire City of Buffalo is grieving this tragedy,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in the release. “This crime will not be tolerated – especially as we are actively investigating the Jefferson Avenue shooting as a domestic terrorism incident. Any threat will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The calls came less than 24 hours after Payton S. Gendron, 18, allegedly opened fire inside the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo on Saturday afternoon. All of the victims killed in the mass shooting were Black. Three more people were wounded—one victim is Black and two other victims are white.
Gendron had allegedly posted a racist and antisemitic manifesto online and is believed to have targeted the market because it was in a Black neighborhood. Police say he traveled several hours from his home town near Binghamton, New York, to Buffalo.
Buffalo Police Department Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said the mass shooting was “an absolute racist hate crime.”
Gendron is currently charged with one count of first-degree murder.
Chowaniec is scheduled to appear for a hearing on Friday. He is being held without bail pending a forensics exam, the DA’s office said.
[Image via Erie County Sheriff’s Office.]
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