Tattoo artist charged in Concord refugee graffiti incidents
Concord Police Chief John Duval, standing with Lt. Tim O'Malley, speaks at a press conference at the Concord Police Department on Tuesday regarding the arrest of Raymond Stevens of Concord for a 2011 graffiti incident targeting refugee homes in South Concord. "We were looking for a needle in a haystack," said Duval, who said Stevens was arraigned at around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.
WILL PARSON / Monitor staff
Vandals penned racist graffiti on the homes of three African refugee families in the South End of Concord, including the house of a Congolese refugee living on Downing Street, shown here in a file photo from September 2011.
(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor file)
Raymond Stevens, 42, of Pembroke.
It was an act that stunned a community and bedeviled a police force for more than two years: three homes in south Concord smeared in the night with racist, xenophobic messages for the refugee families living inside. Yesterday, however, the mystery of who authored those words may have been lifted with the arrest of a local man who authorities say they first suspected a year ago, after stumbling across a document containing his handwriting.
Raymond “Raynard” Stevens, a 42-year-old tattoo artist, was apprehended yesterday morning at his home in Pembroke, the police said. He was charged with a “special” felony for criminal mischief, an offense that could bring a maximum prison sentence of 10 to 30 years because of a state hate-crime statute.
“No family living in this city, or anywhere in America, should live in fear that someone will write a hateful message on the walls of their home while they sleep,” Concord police Chief John Duval said during a press conference yesterday afternoon.
Stevens was transported to Merrimack County jail and arraigned by video feed at Concord’s district court. He was held on $8,000 cash bail.
A 2012 incident
The messages Stevens is accused of composing were discovered Sept. 18, 2011. Etched in black marker across the clapboards of the Perley and Downing streets homes, they declared that the city had been sullied by the refugees’ arrivals from Rwanda, Somalia and the Congo.
“Your subhuman culture has already brought many crimes linked to your mud people,” one read.
“You are not welcome here,” another began. “You lower the value and safety of our good town . . . you bring death wherever your cursed people go.”
The police believe Stevens also perpetrated a similar vandalism last August, at the home of a Somali family on Thompson Street. The medium used and the message written – the occupants were described as “scum” and “primitive beasts,” and blamed for instigating crime – were similar to the 2011 incident. But according to an affidavit on the investigation, the method was not identical: Whoever authored the 2012 message used capital letters.
Stevens, who the police said lived in the South End at the time of both crimes, owns a tattoo parlor in Nashua called Tattoomb. According to the affidavit, he has been an active member in various white supremacist groups. He also sings in a heavy metal band, called Inverticrux, using the stage name RayPissed.
In addition, Stevens has a vocal internet presence, most notably on Facebook, where he posts racist cartoons, graphics and diatribes. On the site, he describes himself as an animal lover, an environmentalist, a “proud Aryan man” and “one outspoken Mother-F-er!!”
Stevens does not appear to have made any postings on his personal profile on or near the date of the vandalism, or if he did, they have been removed. But according to the affidavit, which was prepared by Detective Wade Brown, the lead investigator in the case, Stevens posted early on the morning of the 2011 crime on one of his pages – he has multiple – indicating he was awake “during the same time frame that the racist messages were written.”
Stevens has published glimpses into his personal views on the site, including a Feb. 2, 2012, post in which he expressed frustration that only minorities are allowed to be proud of their race.
“i am born in to a fine line of men and women that did stupendously miraculous things with the world around them,” he wrote (the punctuation and spelling are his). “if your culture produced many advances before you, it will be likely passed down into you,” he added further down. “when your born into a third world nation, you wouldn’t understand that. being that you look at the people of your kind that came before you and see they built nearly nothing in the same time span of other more successful races.”
‘Just plain wrong’
The 2011 incident galvanized much of the state and Concord community into action on the families’ behalf. Officials denounced the writings, calling them “malicious,” an “aberration” and “just plain wrong.” Neighbors sent flowers. Hundreds rallied in Concord to show support.
Noting distinct similarities in the handwriting in all three messages – the author’s “b,” for instance, resembled a “6” – state and federal law enforcement officials searched for a perpetrator, fielding tips and combing through police documents for writing samples with any matching letters. By December 2011, however, the investigation had stalled, according to the affidavit.
For months, nothing happened. Then, on Aug. 5, 2012, the Thompson Street house was found tarnished with nearly identical language. “WE CANNOT COEXIST WITH THIRD WORLD SCUM,” it stated. “the Primitive beasts like those in this house are to blame for the CRIMES WE now SUFFER Love your legals, DePort the rest.”
The investigation was reopened, but after a month it seemed to have reached the same dead end, the affidavit states. As a last resort, Brown began flipping through criminal cases from the neighborhood before 2009, and he stumbled onto an unrelated residential gun application. The handwriting on it didn’t match the graffiti, but it opened another trove of writing samples in which one might exist. Brown began skimming through hundreds of similar applications, looking for the telltale “b.” On Sept. 12, 2012, he found it – three times – on an application submitted in 2009 by Stevens.
Days later, investigators searched Stevens’s home, business and car, finding in all three locations handwriting that appeared to match the graffiti, the affidavit states. At his shop, they also discovered several copies of a typed letter that specifically defended the 2011 vandalism. When confronted about this, Stevens denied having written the letter, saying instead that he had obtained it at a counter-protest in Concord.
“Stevens insisted that (the vandalism) was ‘too extreme’ for him and he denied that his handwriting was similar to the messages,” the affidavit states.
Investigators began reaching out to people who knew or had known Stevens, and they eventually contacted an ex-girlfriend who told them he used to brag about spray-painting swastikas and racist sayings on homes and a synagogue in the night. Stevens began referring to people of mixed ethnic descent as “mud people,” the woman said, according to the affidavit. She also told the officers that in 2006, Stevens repeatedly threw bricks through the storefront of a shop near his in Nashua in an attempt to scare the nonwhite owner out of business.
The brick-throwing account was later corroborated by a former employee at Tattoomb, who told investigators that he had also personally helped Stevens carry out a similar act several years ago at a Concord tattoo parlor that was owned by a Hispanic man.
Upon seeing photos of the Concord graffiti, both the former employee and the ex-girlfriend said they were certain it was Stevens’s handwriting, the affidavit states. In addition, an FBI forensic specialist, who compared Stevens’s writing to that scrawled on the homes concluded in June that the two “were prepared by the same writer.”
Investigators believe Stevens has perpetrated several similar hate crimes in the past, but he has never been prosecuted, they said, because the damage is always low, which means prosecutors have only a brief window of time to produce evidence of his involvement. This case is different, however, they said, because the damage exceeded $1,000.
Stevens said little at the arraignment yesterday, his head dipped slightly as city prosecutor Tracy Connolly detailed his crimes. His wife appeared in court but declined to comment. Stevens is scheduled for a probable cause hearing, in which a judge determines whether there is enough evidence for a suspect to stand trial, Oct. 24.
‘One wacky individual’
None of the families targeted in the two incidents attended the press conference yesterday. Honore Murenzi, who directs New American Africans in Concord and has worked closely with many of them, said he had called and left voice messages about the news.
All but one of the families have remained in Concord. Manessee Ngendahayo, whose home was vandalized in 2011, moved out of state – he is living in Texas, Murenzi said – a few months after the first vandalism. Ngendahayo, who had settled in the United States after fleeing Rwanda in the wake of the genocide there, moved as a direct result of it, the police said.
Bob Wolfe, who works closely with refugee children and who knew Ngendahayo, said he tried at the time to persuade him to stay.
“I tried to tell him this was not a whole bunch of people who did this, that this was one wacky individual and that everybody else was supporting him,” Wolfe said. “He said, ‘Bob, in my country they write on your house before they kill you.’ ”
Murenzi described the arrest as “a relief,” and he said he hoped it would bring comfort to the families and other refugees living in Concord.
“Someone who writes things like that is not a good person, and you cannot know what else they will do,” he said.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)