Suspect in anti-refugee graffiti only second in county to be charged with racial hate crime
In the months preceding this week’s arrest of Raymond “Raynard” Stevens, police detectives pored over the 42-year-old tattoo artist’s background in search of proof that he scrawled a series of hostile messages on the homes of refugee families in Concord’s South End, and that his actions were fueled by racial spite.
Now comes the next step: presenting that in a court of law.
Stevens, who was detained Tuesday, has been charged with a special felony for criminal mischief, an offense that could bring a maximum prison sentence of 10 to 30 years. He is accused of writing in 2011 on the clapboards of three South End homes occupied by refugee families from Rwanda, Somalia and Congo. The messages described the residents as “subhuman,” and directed them to return to their “war torn land.” Refugee resettlement was characterized as “destroying our towns just to save a few doomed Africans.”
Authorities believe Stevens is also responsible for similar graffiti the following year, in which refugees were referred to as “scum” and “primitive beasts.”
Stevens has told investigators he didn’t write the messages, that they were “too extreme” for him.
Should the case make it to trial, and should prosecutors successfully prove that Stevens authored the messages and did so out of racially-motivated malice, he could face a maximum prison sentence more than four times what he would had the crime involved mere destruction of property.
When the vandalism first surfaced in 2011, officials said the person who wrote it could face up to five years in state prison for having committed a misdemeanor-level offense. That was later amended when detectives determined that the cost to repair the homes, including the one on Thompson Street targeted last year, was nearly $3,000 – well above the $1,500 benchmark to warrant a Class B felony. Furthermore, the police said one of the families moved out of Concord as a direct result of the crime, and that resulted in more than $5,000 worth of lost rental income for their former landlord.
That change was critical to the investigation because the statute of limitations on a misdemeanor would have run out after a year, Concord police Lt. Timothy O’Malley said. The statute of limitations on felony charges typically lasts six years.
The Class B felony alone could bring up to seven years in prison. But Stevens faces a much stiffer penalty because of a clause in a state statute that enhances punishment for crimes fueled by hostility toward one’s “religion, race, creed, sexual orientation . . . national origin or sex.”
County prosecutors have only invoked the clause once in a case involving race. That was earlier this year, when they convinced a jury that 22-year-old Donald Freese attacked a man in Hooksett last July because he was black. Witnesses testified that Freese jumped out of a car, pulled the victim off his moped and repeatedly punched and kicked him, all while calling him a “f------ n-----.” During the brawl, Freese also allegedly brandished a knife and tried unsuccessfully to slash the man with it. He was sentenced in March to four to 12 years in prison for simple assault and criminal threatening.
The enhanced sentencing statute dates back to at least 1971, said County Attorney Scott Murray. It manifested out of a “three-time loser” that codified harsher punishment for criminals who have previously served at least two one-year prison terms. Other provisions were tacked on over the years, Murray said, including the hate crime clause in 1985.
Not everyone has embraced the clause over the years. In 2005, a group of state representatives introduced a bill to erase it from the statute. The bill died in the House, but Rep. Daniel Itse, a Fremont Republican who co-sponsored it, said he still believes hate crimes should not be punished differently than others in which the same tangible damage is caused.
“You’re trying to impute what’s going on inside someone’s head, and that flies in the face of justice,” Itse said. “Everybody ought to be treated equally under the law. Victims and perpetrators.”
Murray contended, though, that hate crimes carry more weight because victims of them are targeted at random.
“You aren’t a victim because you did something, you’re a victim because you are something,” he said. “That’s wrong.”
Hate crimes can be difficult to prosecute because they require proving intent, Murray said. That may not be difficult in this case, however. Stevens has a vocal internet presence. He has frequently posted racist cartoons, graphics and diatribes on Facebook, and describes himself on the site as a “proud Aryan man” and “one outspoken Mother-F-er!!”
According to an arrest affidavit, Stevens has also posted disturbing and violent comments about African Americans on YouTube, using the screen name “Raynard88666.”
“None of these online activities appeared to violate any laws,” the affidavit states, “but they clearly established his opinions of other races and cultures.”
Former acquaintances also told detectives that Stevens has carried out similar racially motivated vandalism in the past, at homes, businesses and a synagogue. He does not have a criminal record, but, according to the affidavit, that is largely because, “in case after case the statute of limitations for prosecution of those previous offenses had passed.”
If they’re correct, this time may prove different.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)