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FBI steps in to prosecute incidents of hate crimes against African-Americans and Black churches

By ONME Newswire

California man convicted of hate crime

SAN JOSE, CA – A federal jury convicted a California man this month for a federal hate crime for attacking a Black man with a knife on a street in Santa Cruz, CA.

Ole Hougen, 44, was convicted of willfully attempting to cause bodily injury by using a dangerous weapon because of a person’s actual or perceived race and color.

According to evidence presented at trial, Hougen confronted a 29-year-old Black man who was crossing a street in Santa Cruz. Hougen took out a nine-inch knife and swiped multiple times at the man’s head, chest, and stomach, while yelling racial slurs at him. At the time of the attack, Hougen was on probation after pleading no contest to state charges that he committed a racially motivated assault on a different Black man in 2018.

Hougen is scheduled to be sentenced on July 26 and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The verdict comes on the heels of a decision by the U.S. Attorney General to conduct a 30-day review of the Department’s enforcement efforts to address hate-based violence and discrimination. The working group was assembled to make recommendations for improving hate crime and unlawful discrimination investigations and prosecutions. Additional information regarding the Attorney General’s working group can be obtained here.

“Strict enforcement of laws prohibiting the targeting of vulnerable groups is essential to the proper functioning of our democratic society,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Hinds. “This Office is one of the four U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the country chosen by the Attorney General to work with other Department of Justice components to review our structure of anti-hate law enforcement and make recommendations to improve the system. This is just another indication that this Office is committed to ensuring the thoughtful deployment of resources to address hate crimes and unlawful discrimination.”

“The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute bias-motivated crimes like this one in an effort to secure justice for victims of these crimes and the communities they are meant to target and intimidate,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan.

“The FBI worked closely with the Santa Cruz Police Department to bring justice for this shocking, horrific attack,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair. “The FBI will use all authority granted to us by federal law to investigate hate crimes meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community. Acts of hate and racism have no place here and will not be tolerated. I urge members of our community to report any hate incidents to local or federal law enforcement so we can bring offenders to justice.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marissa Harris and Trial Attorney Michael J. Songer of the Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. The FBI conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Santa Cruz Police Department.

Maine man charged this month with hate crime offenses for arson of predominantly Black church

Maine Man Charged with Hate Crime Offenses for Arson of Predominantly Black Church

In Maine, a man was charged this month in federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts, in connection with setting the Dec. 28, 2020 fire that destroyed the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield.

The announcement was made collectively by representatives of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Massachusetts U.S Attorney's office, FBI Boston Field Division, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF)'s Boston Field Division; and the Massachusetts State Police Fire Marshal's office.

Dushko Vulchev, 44, of Houlton, was charged by criminal complaint with four counts of damage to religious property involving fire and one count of use of fire to commit a federal felony. Vulchev is currently in state custody and will make an initial appearance in federal court in Springfield at a later date.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield has a primarily Black congregation. According to court documents, an intentionally set fire caused extensive damage to the church in the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 2020.

The government also alleges that Vulchev is also responsible for several other fires set on church property and for a series of tire slashings on church property and in the surrounding area. The additional fires alleged include a fire at the backdoor of the church on Dec. 13, 2020, and two additional fires near the rear door of the church on Dec. 15, 2020. The investigation, including the review of security videos and location data from Vulchev’s mobile telephone, showed Vulchev at or near the scene of many of the alleged crimes, including the Dec. 28, 2020, fire that severely damaged the church.

In addition, according to charging documents, a subsequent search of Vulchev’s vehicle and electronic devices revealed messages from Vulchev demonstrating Vulchev’s hatred of Black people, including recent messages from Vulchev in December 2020 calling to “eliminate all N****s.” In addition, the devices contained images demonstrating Vulchev’s racial animus toward Black people.

The charge of damage to religious property involving fire provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of use of fire to commit a federal felony provides for a sentence of at least 10 years in prison, in addition to any sentence received for the other charged crimes. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors; the case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Deepika Bains Shukla, Chief of Mendell’s Springfield Branch Office, and Trial Attorneys Timothy Visser and Kyle Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division..

Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Acting U.S Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell of the District of Massachusetts; Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta of the FBI Boston Field Division; Special Agent in Charge Kelly Brady of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF)'s Boston Field Division; and Massachusetts State Police Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey made the announcement.


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