Branding victim: 'They treated me like an animal'

By Jan-Mikael Patterson
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 13, 2010

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Prosecutors in Farmington believe there is enough evidence to prove three men accused of kidnapping and abusing a mentally challenged man were acting out of racial hatred.

The 22-year-old victim, who is from Navajo, N.M., was branded on his upper right arm with a wire clothes hanger fashioned into a swastika symbol. The back of his head was shaved in a swastika design as well.

"I didn't want them to do this to me," said the victim, who requested his name not be made public. "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 victim, who is described by family members as having the mind of a 12-year-old, also had white supremacist slogans and images marked on his skin with permanent marker.

The three arrested include two Anglos, Jesse A. Sanford, 24, Paul W. Beebe, 26, both of Farmington, and William Hatch, 28, of Fruitland, N.M., whose mother is reportedly Navajo.

"To my understanding, William Hatch is of mixed race but I don't know specifically," said Sgt. Robert Perez of the Farmington Police Department. "I was told that he is part Native American but I don't know the specific tribe."

The victim said he was conscious throughout the attack. He identified his alleged attackers to police, who then found Hatch and Beebe in a motel in Farmington. Sanford was by then in custody on unrelated charges involving a vehicle accident.

Aside from the writing on the victim's body, investigators found other physical evidence linking the crime to the white supremacist movement.

"From what I can share with you, what was found was memorabilia and items associated with the white supremacists," Perez said.

Police also reportedly were looking into the possibility that the attack might have been gang-related.

Asked if the three suspects have had prior run-ins with law enforcement, Perez said, "They are known to the police officers."

They were charged May 7 with first-degree felony kidnapping, second-degree felony conspiracy to commit kidnapping, third-degree felony aggravated battery causing great bodily harm, and fourth-degree felony conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. Beebe also faces fourth-degree felony tampering with evidence.

Hate crime

If the district attorney proves that it was a hate crime, New Mexico law would add one year to the sentence for each charge on which the men are convicted.

Currently the suspects face 35.5 years in prison, including a mandatory 18 years for kidnapping, if convicted of all charges and the hate crime enhancement. Beebe is looking at an additional 18 months for tampering with evidence.

This would be the third time New Mexico's hate crime law has been invoked since it was enacted in 2003, and the second involving a crime against a Navajo committed in Farmington.

In 2006, three white youths were convicted of committing a hate crime when they beat and robbed William Blackie, a middle-aged Navajo man they picked up on the streets of Farmington. John Winer, C.L. Carney and Freddie Brooks pleaded guilty to attacking Blackie, and admitted that they were on the lookout for a Navajo to roll.

"Hate crime is always ugly," said President Joe Shirley Jr. "Certainly, in our relationship with the city of Farmington, Navajos had their share of hate crimes perpetrated on them. Working with the leadership of the city in recent years, though, we have come a long way toward building a more positive relationship."

David John, chairman of Farmington's Community Relations Commission, said this is the first racially motivated crime to occur there since 2006. He agreed with Shirley that overall the relationship between the reservation and city has been positive.

"I still see Navajos coming into Farmington for their personal and economic needs and businesses," said John, who is Navajo.

"We are very concerned with the situation," he said. "I think the whole community is. The commission was created to help deter issues like this.

"As a commission we strive for cultural awareness for all ethnicities," John said. "This is not a step back. It's more of a wake up call for the community that this will not be tolerated. It's very disappointing that this had to happen. We all have to work together to get come kind of resolution."

John encouraged Navajos to continue shopping in Farmington.

"It's still safe and the people that are all involved are locked up," he said. "Let this be a strong message that this will not be tolerated."

Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating whether the attack violated the federal hate crimes law and, according to media reports, the U.S. attorney's office is interested in taking the case. The three suspects are being held on a federal detainer.

"The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation since this is a hate crimes issue," said Special Agent Darrin Jones. "We will do an investigation and present our findings to the U.S. Attorney and they will decide what they will do from there."

Kind, openhearted

The victim suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, according to his adoptive mother.

She said he requires constant supervision because he has a childlike faith in people and tends to see everyone as a friend.

"He's very kind and openhearted," she said.

He was adopted at the age of 4 months and since then has lived with his adopted family in Navajo. He was raised to tend sheep and other livestock, and help his family with chores, she said.

"He's very fluent in Navajo," his mom said. "When there's a Navajo ceremony, he sings along with the medicine man. He doesn't hold back and he knows a lot of those songs."

She is anguished at the thought someone would deliberately take advantage of her son. He is not her only child but he occupies a unique spot in her heart, and in the family, she said.

"The doctors said that he might die when he was a baby because he couldn't drink milk," she said. "They said that he might not live to be an adult.

"People told me that I shouldn't take on the responsibilities of raising a child with FAS but I didn't listen to them," she said. "He is loveable and as time went on my family loved him and accepted him.

"When people would pick on him and make fun of him my kids would stand up for him and defend him," she said with tears streaming down her cheeks. "He's come a long way."

On the day of the attack the victim, who is Honágháahnii (One Who Wanders Clan), born for Hashtl'ishnii (Mud Clan), was with his grandmother in Gallup but wandered off and got lost.

He asked an elderly Navajo couple for a ride home, but became disoriented and could not tell them where to let him out. Finally they reached their destination in Farmington and, unable to determine where he belonged, let him out on Main Street.

He went into the nearest MacDonald's and encountered the three suspects, who were employees there. They offered him a place to stay.

"I'm really mad about what they did to me," the victim said Tuesday.

Since the assault, he has been seeing a counselor and has been given medication to help him calm down when he feels overwhelmed by the trauma. Family members say he hasn't eaten as much and is quieter than before. He will require plastic surgery to erase the swastika on his arm.

"I'm glad I'm home," the victim said. "I'm glad that two of my friends (police investigators) called me to tell me that they caught them. I'm glad my friends said they did what they said they were going to do, and that they were going all the way through with this to help me."

Telephone calls seeking comment from Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, and Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts were not been returned as of press time Wednesday.

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