Banjo CEO questionable past brings up new questions concerning Utah contracts

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The Utah company Banjo is under fire after CEO Damien Patton admits to being a part of a white supremacist group in Tennessee back in 1990. Court document reveals he was the driver in an attack against a synagogue near Nashville.

Investigator Matt Stroud found the old court documents showing what Patton believed back in the early ’90s. He posted an article about Patton’s secret past on Mediums One Zero.

The article reads, “‘We believe that the Blacks and the Jews are taking over America, and it’s our job to take America back for the White Race,” Patton testified at trial, describing his beliefs while carrying out the crime.'”

“These documents were basically hiding in plain sight,” Stroud tells ABC4 News.

The article states Patton had ties to the Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

“One of the witnesses in the case was described as this man Damien Patton. The name was spelled differently Damion but I had some sources that came to me and said, I think this is the guy. This is the guy who runs Banjo,” Stroud said. “And so reading that description in Patton’s own voice, which it was in the grand jury testimony and then later trial testimony, was really scary.”

On June 9th, 1990 court documents reveal Patton and a klan leader drove to a synagogue in a Nashville suburb to shoot at it.

“I spoke to a man named Lenard William Armstrong who actually carried out the shooting,” he said. “Lenard was in the passenger seat while Damien was driving.”

Stroud added, “It was obviously meant to intimidate and the description of the act involves being connected to a violent group of racists.”

Stroud found out Patton remained in contact with a group of skinheads while in the Navy, a time Patton talks fondly of but never mentions the interactions.

In a statement, Patton tells ABC4 News:

32 years ago I was a lost, scared, and vulnerable child. I won’t go into detail, but the reasons I left home at such a young age are unfortunately not unique; I suffered abuse in every form. I did terrible things and said despicable and hateful things, including to my own Jewish mother, that today I find indefensibly wrong, and feel extreme remorse for. I have spent most of my adult lifetime working to make amends for this shameful period in my life.

In my teens, I dropped out of school, lived on the streets, ate out of dumpsters and raised money panhandling. I was desperate and afraid. I was taken in by skinhead gangs and white supremacist organizations. Over the course of a few years, I did many things as part of those groups that I am profoundly ashamed of and sorry about.

Eventually, I was able to get myself away from this world while serving in the United States Navy. This turned my life around. While serving my country, I worked with law enforcement agencies in hate group prosecutions and left this world behind.

Since then, I have tried and failed to completely accept and come to terms with how I, a child of Jewish heritage, became part of such a hateful, racist group. One thing I have done, through therapy and outreach, I have learned to forgive that 15 year old boy who, despite the absence of ideological hate, was lured into a dark and evil world. For all of those I have hurt, and that this revelation will hurt, I’m sorry. No apology will undo what I have done.

I have worked every day to be a responsible member of society. I’ve built companies, employed hundreds and have worked to treat everyone around me equally. In recent years, I’ve sought to create technologies that stop human suffering and save lives without violating privacy. I know that I will never be able to erase my past but I work hard every day to make up for mistakes. This is something I will never stop doing.”

“I think he could have gone a few different directions with that statement and the fact that he went in the direction of being remorseful probably says something about his personality,” Stroud adds.

The NAACP Salt Lake Branch President Jeanetta Williams responding to the article stating:

[She] is appalled that Banjo Technology was able to gain prominence with law enforcement and to acquire such a large contract with the state of Utah. The founder, Damien Patton’s past affiliation with the KKK has been unveiled. During his time with the KKK and his hate toward minorities is surprising that now he has worked with law enforcement by gathering massive amounts of data, video surveillance cameras and other ways to help solve crimes is astonishing. With Patton’s past affiliation with the KKK and his experience with surveillance, is extremely alarming as to the data that he has acquired. The NAACP is urging that a thorough investigation is done to finding out if any of his data was done to track minorities and other unlawful activities.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office telling us it’s suspending the use of Banjo within the office.

A statement provided by the Utah AG office reads:

The Utah Attorney General’s office is shocked and dismayed at reports that Banjo’s founder had any affiliation with any hate group or groups in his youth. Neither the AG nor anyone in the AG’s office were aware of these affiliations or actions. They are indefensible. He has said so himself.

Attorney General Sean Reyes and the Attorney General’s office absolutely condemn the hate and violence promoted by supremacist groups and will continue to aggressively fight crimes and decry domestic terror perpetrated by them.

While we believe Mr. Patton’s remorse is sincere and believe people can change, we feel it’s best to suspend use of Banjo technology by the Utah AG’s Office while we implement a third-party audit and advisory committee to address issues like data privacy and possible bias. We recommend other state agencies do the same.

“So the $750,000 contract has supposedly suspended, the $20 million-contract is still on the books,” said Stroud.

Two spokesmen with the Department of Public Safety tell ABC4 News Investigator Jason Nguyen the contract is up to $20 million and needs to be reviewed because it’s in its first year.

One spokesman says it is a joint law enforcement contract where $1.5 million was spent on infrastructure and data integration to record UDOT cameras, with an ongoing $850,000 payment for licensing and maintenance.

The other spokesman says the contract is stretched out over five years.

In addition to that DPS confirms the AG’s Office paid $850,000 for licensing, and maintenance and the University of Utah pays $500,000.

In a statement to the media DPS officials state:

Consequently, Utah DPS is reviewing its current relationship and agreements with Banjo and will release additional statements after such review has taken place.

We have not suspended the current contract because the contract is with the Department of Administrative Services Division of Purchasing. We are discussing and reviewing the matter with them. We won’t be able to comment further until those discussions have occurred.

A Banjo spokesman responding Tuesday night stating:

Banjo has always said that any company working with the government should be subject to audits and oversight. Banjo does not use facial recognition or any surveillance technologies. We look forward to discussing how our public safety solutions help first responders do their jobs while protecting citizens’ privacy.

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