Need for hate crime law in Indiana is gaining traction, prosecutor says

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ANDERSON — A confrontation between two city employees and an Anderson resident last year quickly spiraled into what authorities are calling a hate crime.

The Anderson man was recently convicted on felony charges of intimidation, but no one was charged with a hate crime.

“There is no legislation for it,” Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said. “That’s a perfect case where a hate crime could have been charged, but it wasn’t because there is no hate crime statute in Indiana.”

Suan Patrick Mahoney, 31, 400 block of West 37th Street, was convicted on two counts of Level 5 felony on intimidation where defendant draws or uses a deadly weapon.

Mahoney was arrested by Anderson police on Aug. 15, 2017, after being dispatched to Bobber’s Restaurant, 1117 Alexandria Pike, for a “very aggressive and violent verbal confrontation,” according to court records.

Witnesses told police that when Street Department employees and employees at the restaurant and bait shop told Mahoney to move his vehicle from an area under construction, he started to threaten two black city employees by using profane language and racial slurs.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, Mahoney grabbed the handle of a Glock pistol that remained holstered at his side while making the statement that, “I will put a hole in you, I will shoot you!”

Police noted in their report that another unreported incident had occurred at the same location about a week earlier involving Mahoney and the same two city employees.

‘Inappropriate’ comments

Paul Baylor, Mahoney’s defense attorney, said one of the employees attempted to physically attack his client prompting Mahoney to make the racial slurs.

“I think even though he made comments that were absolutely inappropriate, I think if someone is trying to attack you, I think you should be allowed to make a threat to protect yourself,” Baylor said. “I personally don’t believe my client made a threat. I don’t think my client made a threat, but if he did, it was out of fear.”

On Nov. 20, Mahoney was sentenced to the Department of Correction for four years on each count to be served at the same time. Two years were executed and two years were suspended.

Madison Circuit Court 4 Judge David A. Happe ordered the remaining 687-day executed sentence to be served in the Continuum of Sanctions Program through the Community Justice Center.

“I am no longer representing him,” Baylor said. “He got convicted and his sentence is done. He is on probation and continuing sanctions.”

Mahoney informed the court he plans to file an appeal.

New laws for hate crimes

Cummings, who is on the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council legislative committee, said the committee has been in support of hate crime legislation for the last three years and “it’s got no traction and gone nowhere in the state Senate.”

He said Indiana is one of five states that do not have hate crime legislation. The other states are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Cummings said Indiana prosecutors are in favor of hate crime legislation that is enforceable.

“It’s very hard to prove intent,” Cummings said. “Unless you are announcing it, it’s really hard to know if you are attacking someone because of race or religion, sexual preference, things like that.”

Cummings said he is in favor of legislation that could be used as an aggravating factor by a judge to enhance a criminal sentence by adding more time or increase a sentence for the crime.

While there are federal laws against hate crimes, Cummings said it is difficult to have them prosecuted at that level.

“They are very, very selective in the cases they take,” he said. “If it is something that gets a lot of media attention and you get a confession and a videotape and a case you can’t lose, you might — might — get the U.S. attorney’s interest.”

Cummings said he is pleased with Mahoney’s conviction.

“Clearly, in my opinion, it only escalated to that level because of the race of the victims in that crime,” he said. “We pushed very hard. That’s why we ended up in a jury trial in that case and they were convicted.

“The language that was used was incredibly offensive.”

Anderson Police Department Maj. Joel Sandefur said his department tracks and reports hate crimes to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. He said there was one hate crime in 2016, three in 2017 and two already in 2018.

Information on hate crimes has been gathered by law enforcement agencies since 1990 when Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act.

Mahoney’s case was one of the three reported to the UCR in 2017.

Proposed legislation

On Tuesday, state Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, released draft legislation that would create a statewide hate crime statute by increasing criminal sentencing if a perpetrator commits a crime because of a bias toward the victim’s age, race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, ancestry, color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, status as a police officer or service in the U.S. armed forces.

Cook represents House District 32, which includes all of Tipton County and portions of Madison, Hamilton, Delaware, Howard and Grant counties.

“The increase in these crimes of hate in our communities, across the state and throughout the nation indicates that now is the time to act, and provide judges and prosecutors with more clarity in sentencing,” Cook said in a press release. “This legislation is important to adequately address the severity of these crimes and to help protect all Hoosiers.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb said he would be in favor of a hate crime law after a Carmel synagogue was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti and the recent shooting in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, earlier this year.

Cook said in his press release the proposed legislation would not eliminate discrimination or hinder First Amendment rights to free speech, but it would hold criminals accountable for hate crimes.

Lawmakers will have a chance to consider the proposal when the 2019 legislative session begins in January.

Follow Traci L. Miller @_TraciMiller on Twitter, email her at [email protected], or call her at 765-640-4805.

More information

Hate crimes can be reported by calling the Indiana Civil Rights Commission at: 317-232-2600, calling toll-free at 1-800-628-2909, or the Indiana State Police at 317-232-8983.

Definition of a hate crime

The FBI defines a hate crime as: "a criminal offense committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against the victim's race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin, or sexual-orientation." Even if the offender was mistaken in his or her perception that the victim was a member of the group, the offense is still considered a hate crime because the offender was motivated by bias against the person or group.

Source: Indiana Civil Rights Commission


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