Hate crime doesn’t warrant police investigation, separate charge

0
154
Rosalind Hoover reported that her white neighbors subjected her to racial threats. (photo by Jordan Green

A hate crime is not always prosecuted as such, as Rosalind Hoover’s experience shows. And in her case, the allegations of racial threats of violence weren’t even investigated.

But for a chance meeting with a reporter, the barrage of racial slurs and threats of violence allegedly rained down on an African-American woman in High Point by two white brothers might not have ever been recorded as a hate crime.

An affidavit written and signed by Rosalind Hoover provides a succinct exposition of the events of March 22, when the aggravation of brothers Christopher Littlefield and Donald Tyler Littlefield revving the motors of a truck and moped throughout the day finally compelled her to plead for peace.

“About 7:45 [p.m.] I went outside and asked them: Were they going to do this all summer?” Hoover recounted. “They said, ‘As long as no one called the police.’ I said, ‘You know they are because of the noise.’ They said they were playing with the vehicles. I said, ‘Can you not play with them as much?’ and returned into my house.

“Tyler parked in front of my walkway on his moped and continuously [revved] the motor,” Hoover’s affidavit continues. “I came back outside where [Chris] said to me to take my black ass back to Greensboro and that he would help his brother Tyler beat my ass and tear down my mailbox. That I was a black b**** and n***as is why the killings are going on and that he (Chris) needs to kill our black asses and that is why someone killed my boyfriend.”

Brian Levin, who heads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in Bernardino, said the incident alleged by Hoover fits the most common category of hate crime tracked by the FBI, what the agency calls “intimidation.”

“In my review of the facts presented, speaking as both a former police officer and a Stanford-educated lawyer, I would say at least for the reporting purposes, this is a criminal threat and is a hate crime because a significant part of the alleged threat is related to the victim’s race,” Levin said.

Despite the racial dimensions of the Littlefield brothers’ reported threats, the incident is unlikely to be counted in the FBI’s annual report on hate crimes because the police officer who responded to Hoover’s call declined to investigate. Instead, the officer suggested that Hoover go to the magistrate’s office and file charges. She took the officers advice, and as a result the brothers each received a criminal summons for misdemeanor communicating threats.

Assistant Chief Larry Casterline has stated to Triad City Beat that it’s standard practice for an officer to refer a victim to the magistrate in misdemeanor cases where the officer did not witness the act.

“Depending on the jurisdiction, with regard to low-level crimes, [the police] will often say, ‘As a matter of practice we refer people to the magistrate,’” Levin said. “In this case, the optimal choice would have been for the police to file a criminal report and then refer that report to the prosecutor. If there’s a slight silver lining, it was recommending that the victim go to the magistrate. Particularly with sensitive crime victims, police should really be taking more proactive stances.”

Levin noted an additional reason why misdemeanor crimes with an element of alleged bias should be investigated by the police.

“If we’re going to err, I think we have to err on the side of a full investigation and a thorough vetting process,” Levin said. “Which doesn’t necessarily mean that a hate-crime offense will be levied, but this sends the message to the community that this an offense that authorities take seriously.”

Levin said an officer could have easily interviewed the suspects. Chris Littlefield, who is 21, denied ever threatening Hoover in an interview with TCB. But Chris said his younger brother, Tyler, who is 19, cursed Hoover, while not going so far as to say that he subjected her to racial slurs. “He would yell stuff at her: ‘Shut up’ and cuss words, ‘F*** you, b****,’ and this and that,” Chris Littlefield said. “He’s not all there.”

For his part, Tyler offered a weak denial of Hoover’s allegation in a separate interview. “We don’t do anything wrong to her,” he said. “We don’t cuss her ass out — excuse my French.”

Another admission by Chris Littlefield lends credence to Hoover’s allegations about Tyler Littlefield’s conduct. During the same incident when Chris allegedly told Hoover “he needed to kill our black asses,” she wrote in a separate affidavit that Tyler “said he bet I won’t get mail for a couple days because he was going to tear my mailbox down and whoop my butt, and then he will hang his rebel flag on my fence anytime he wanted to.”

Asked about the allegation, Chris Littlefield told TCB: “My uncle went over there last year and hung the rebel flag on her fence. He’s in and out of jail, and he thinks he owns the world.”

Hoover said the brothers have repeatedly threatened to drape a Confederate flag over her fence, but she was unaware that one of the family members had actually done so. Shortly after speaking with TCB, Chris Littlefield notified the newspaper that he was going to hire a lawyer. At the brothers’ second court hearing on June 15, the prosecutor granted them a continuance until July 27 to allow them time to retain counsel.

When alleged offenses involve an element of bias, prosecutors are faced with a difficult decision as to whether they should supplement the underlying offense with an additional charge. North Carolina law allows prosecutors to levy a charge of “ethnic intimidation” for threatening to assault someone or damage property because of race, color, nationality, or country of origin. Ethnic intimidation, like communicating threats, is classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor, the second most serious type.

“Most hate crimes are not prosecuted under hate-crimes statutes,” Levin said. “A prosecutor has to exercise discretion by looking at the weight of admissible evidence, as well as the statutory requirements…. What often happens is a community’s desire for redress is balanced against the real prosecutorial concerns of being able to establish the facts beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann said he was not familiar with the Littlefield incident, but expressed doubt that the prosecutor would supplement the charges. “What you would call our hate-crime statute — ‘ethnic intimidation’ — doesn’t really add a lot to the punishment someone can get for committing an offense,” he said. “It basically increases the class of the misdemeanor by one degree.”

The district attorney’s office has yet to contact Hoover. Neumann said that’s because the prosecutor doesn’t want to inconvenience victims by asking them to come to court when their cases are likely to be continued. He said Hoover will receive a subpoena to appear in court the day the district attorney is ready to resolve the case, and a prosecutor will speak with her before her case is called.

Levin said it’s important that the underlying offense against Hoover is being prosecuted, even if the bias element is not. “The process is as important as the outcome,” he said. “I think the community will be much better served when you’re assured that even in the absence of a hate-crime charge that the case was fully investigated and adjudicated.”

If you’ve been a victim or witness to a hate crime, tell us your story here.