CEDAR RAPIDS — A federal judge Wednesday sentenced a Waterloo man, who sent threatening tweets last August to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, to six years in prison.
The sentence goes beyond the statutory guideline.
U.S. District Senior Judge Linda Reade said the severity of the sentence is not only because Joseph Dierks, 34, threatened to kill or otherwise harm the U.S. senator and Army veteran, but because his “angry aggressive behavior is escalating.”
Reade noted that Dierks began leaving threatening voicemails for his girlfriend, then was pulled over for a gun violation. A few years later he was convicted for harassment and, while on probation in that case, he was charged for the Ernst offense.
The first threatening message Dierks sent to Ernst said: “I want you to die. Sorry, not sorry.” More tweets followed, Reade noted, along with a disturbing phone conversation he had with his mother from the jail — an “angry rant” against women, blacks, police and the United States.
During that phone call, Dierks also made disrespectful comments about Reade and threatened a prosecutor and his children and black jail staff. He also said he had no intention of complying with conditions when he is released from prison.
A jury found Dierks guilty in November of three counts of transmitting a communication containing a threat in interstate commerce.
Testimony indicated Dierks admitted to sending the tweets that use expletives and threatened physical harm to Ernst. Dierks told FBI agents and a Waterloo police officer that the three tweets sent to one of Ernst’s Twitter accounts Aug. 16 could be “perceived as threatening,” according to testimony.
Dierks told the authorities he was trying to get the senator’s attention because he wanted to join the military but, because of his age, he would need a waiver from a high-ranking officer. Ernst is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.
Dierks had been warned to stop sending tweets to Ernst before the FBI became involved and charges were filed, Waterloo police officer Rhonda Weber testified. She said the department first was contacted by U.S. Capital Police in Washington, D.C., about previous tweets and she went to Dierks’ home Aug. 15.
Weber said Dierks admitted sending tweets to get Ernst’s attention to help with the waiver for the military. Weber told him to stop sending the tweets or he could face criminal charges. Dierks said he would, but early the next morning Dierks then sent the three threatening tweets, according to testimony.
Christopher Nathan, Dierks’ lawyer, in his opening statement, said his client might have sent offensive tweets but he never intended them as threats. Dierks said he didn’t know they would be viewed that way, Nathan added.
Nathan renewed that claim during sentencing that began May 31, but Reade dismissed that argument after reviewing all the trial testimony and the arguments both Nathan and the prosecution made at that previous hearing.
Reade wanted to review everything before imposing a sentence, so the sentencing was continued to Wednesday.
Dierks declined to speak during the previous hearing and again Wednesday.
Reade also ruled that probation, as a special condition, will monitor all electronic equipment of Dierks when he is released from prison because he has a “history of using computers to threaten” others. He also must serve three years of supervised release after his prison term.
This federal sentence will be served consecutively with any sentence he receives in Black Hawk County District Court for a pending violation of probation for a harassment conviction.