ST. LOUIS, MO A man accused of launching a cyberattack that disabled a St. Louis County police union website had a gun in his car when he was arrested and had made several threats about shooting law enforcement officers, an FBI agent testified in court Thursday.
The FBI arrested Justin E. Payne, 32, on Tuesday on a single misdemeanor charge of unauthorized damage to a protected computer. Charging documents say a computer belonging to the St. Louis County Police Association was accessed and damaged sometime between Nov. 22 and Dec. 3.
Special Agent Ashley Frazer testified at a detention hearing Thursday that Payne tweeted out an online hyperlink that enlisted others computers in what is called a “denial of service” attack to overwhelm the target website. The police union site is still down.
Frazer also accused Payne of making a series of threats on Twitter on Jan. 26, including one that began, “Next time I get pulled over by the police, I’m shooting first.” Payne went on to write that he wanted to be sure to get home to his family, Frazer said.
The testimony came in a hearing on whether Payne should remain in jail until trial. U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Mummert said he would decide later.
Payne used a Twitter account associated with the RbG Black Rebels, according to statements made in court. The group was accused of making threats during the Ferguson protests.
It also offered a reward for information about Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson or his relatives. Wilson went into hiding after his shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9 triggered international protests. He later resigned.
A spokesman for the group did not respond this week to messages seeking comment about Payne.
When agents arrested Payne on Tuesday, they found a Hi-Point 9mm handgun and a “leafy green substance” in the glove compartment of his car, and a glass jar containing an unknown liquid concealed in his trunk, Frazer said. There was no suggestion that the possession of the gun was illegal.
Frazer said she believes the jar to contain a chemical or flammable substance, and said it was being tested. Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Lang, Frazer said it could be a “Molotov cocktail” firebomb.
Payne’s lawyer, Donnell Smith, then asked whether it could be something else, and Frazer replied, “Yes.”
Frazer said that she was not aware of any action on the alleged threats, and said the FBI conducted surveillance of Payne on the day of the arrest and possibly at other times. Smith also asked whether the glove compartment was locked, but Frazer said she did not know.
Payne was arrested at the National Personnel Records Center. He is a laborer at the Veterans Affairs Records Management Center there, and has worked there since 2009, a spokesman said Thursday.