A case in which three men allegedly kidnapped a mentally disabled Navajo man and branded him with a coat hanger shaped into a swastika has prompted the first-ever charges under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Tom Perez, the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, this week called the crime “a devastatingly persistent reminder that bigotry and hate continue.”
According to prosecutors, the three men in their early 20s, all of whom worked at a McDonald’s in Farmington, N.M., lured a 22-year-old man, whose name has not been released, into an apartment. While there, they allegedly drew on him, using permanent marker, a pentagram, an ejaculating penis, “white power” and “KKK.” They allegedly shaved his head, leaving only the shape of a swastika.
Then, according to prosecutors, they bent a coat hanger into the shape of half a swastika and pressed it into his arm twice, branding him. They took cell phone of the act, allegedly, as well as video of the victim — whose family says he has the mind of a 12-year-old as a result of being born with fetal alcohol syndrome— “consenting” to the branding.
The victim told the Navajo Times that he never wanted the branding.
“I didn’t want them to do this to me,” he said. “I’m ashamed of what they did. They treated me like an animal, like a goat getting branded. I’m not a goat. I’m not a Jew.”
The men — Paul Beebe and Jesse Sanford, who are white, and William Hatch, who is partly of Native American descent — were arrested about a week after the April 30 incident and charged with kidnapping and aggravated battery charges by the state. In November, the Justice Department announced it will charge the men under the Shepard/Byrd hate crimes law.
It is the first time anyone has been charged under the law, which passed last year. The men face up to life in prison if convicted.
Perez, who head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, spoke yesterday about the incident at a tribal event in Albuquerque.
“Hate crimes reflect a cancer of the soul,” Perez said, “and crimes like this are a devastatingly persistent reminder that bigotry and hate continue to affect too many communities across our nation, and they will not be tolerated in the country that prides itself on freedom.”
Farmington has a long history of tension and violence between the Navajos and whites who live there. Last month, Navajo Nation and city leaders signed what the Associated Press called a “historic agreement” to work toward improving relations.