An Indiana man, allegedly angered by the removal of a tree, is charged with a hate crime for attempting to intimidate an African American neighbor because of his race, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday.
Shephard Hoehn, 50, became angry when a construction crew began removing a tree from the neighbor’s property in the Indianapolis community of Lawrence on June 18, according to the Justice Department. Hoehn allegedly burned a cross next to a fence near the neighbor’s property; displayed a swastika and displayed a large sign containing a variety of anti-Black racial slurs. Hoehn also allegedly threw eggs at the neighbor’s home and played the song “Dixie” repeatedly.
“Although the First Amendment protects hateful, ignorant and morally repugnant beliefs and speech, it does not protect those who choose to take criminal actions based on those beliefs,” said U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler. “This office will continue to prosecute federal hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”
Efforts to reach Hoehn were unsuccessful because a telephone number couldn’t be found. It wasn’t immediately known if Hoehn had a lawyer to speak on his behalf.
According to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Hoehn admitted to actions listed in the court document during interviews with FBI agents. He allegedly said he knew the racial connotations of his actions, that he knew his actions would be disturbing to his neighbor because he is Black, and that he took such actions because he knew they would evoke an emotional response in his neighbor. However, Hoehn asserted he wasn’t a racist and he was exercising his First Amendment rights.
Prosecutors say a search of Hoehn’s Indianapolis home by the FBI turned up firearms and drug paraphernalia. Authorities determined he is a fugitive from a case pending in Missouri, prompting unlawful possession of firearms charges against him.
According to court documents, Hoehn pleaded guilty in 1991 to a stealing charge in Dunklin County, Missouri. However, he failed to complete a sentence of three years’ probation. An arrest warrant for Hoehn was issued in 1993.
The criminal complaint accuses Hoehn of violating the Fair Housing Act, 42 USC § 3631, in addition to the weapons charges.
The case was investigated by the FBI and the Lawrence Police Department. Assistant US Attorney Brad Shephard of the Southern District of Indiana and Katherine DeVar of the Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.