By: Jamie Bernal III
Property damage in the form of spray-painted racial slurs was a cause for concern for the residents in a Seymour neighborhood last Sunday.
A Sevier County Sherriff’s officer was dispatched to Jerry Lynn Way Oct. 16 for vandalism and property damage, then one of the residents called the FBI, who took over the case as it is believed the vandalism may be a hate crime.
According to police reports, there was a total of $14,730 worth of damage – the residence of James Taylor had $13,000 of damage.
Five residences in total were damaged with graffiti of swastikas, nooses, spray paint on cars and demeaning signs posted on property.
The Taylor residence, which was hit the worst, had messages spray painted on the fence that read “DIE MEXI” and “DIE @ COURT.”
James Taylor called the FBI directly because he has lost his faith in the Sevier County law enforcement. Upon first talking to Taylor, he claimed that nobody from the sheriff’s department would have come out, had it not been for the news media drawing attention to the situation.
Captain Michael Hodges, with the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office, refutes this. He said that everyone in Sevier County receives the same attention.
“We were called to that neighborhood for vandalism and when we arrived we did a report at five different homes,” Hodges said. “After we left, one of the neighbors called the FBI and they came out and collected some of the evidence off the ground.
“We were there before anybody else was. We were the first ones there, the FBI came second.”
A detective from Sevier County will continue to work close with the FBI’s investigation into the case.
“One of our detectives will be working with them throughout the process, because if it turns out to not be a hate crime and it turns out to be felony vandalism then they will turn it back over to us,” Hodges said. “That’s why we work with them.”
This event is the latest in a long string of events that has taken place in this neighborhood. Tension between neighbors escalated in 2010. The start of the problems is hard to pinpoint.
Last year, Taylor approached one of his neighbors and expressed his concerns about the neighbor’s children riding on their four wheelers without helmets on. The neighbor then allegedly left a threatening phone message for Taylor.
According to the police report, the officer called after the confrontation encouraged both men to work the situation out like adults.
Taylor has many pictures of officers verbally reprimanding the neighbor’s children for riding the vehicles in the street, and is outraged that the officers do not do more.
Hodges contends that there is nothing in his power that he can do about that situation since it is on private property and is a civil offense.
“We don’t operate in the civil arena, we deal strictly in the criminal arena,” Hodges said.
Many of the other complaints filed by residents in the neighborhood are not punishable offenses by law.
The event on Oct. 16 has not been solved yet. As much as Taylor hopes it is a random event and the threats are hollow, he said he cannot be certain. The threats written around his house include information that not everybody would know.
“I don’t think it is going to stop,” Taylor said.
Community at Odds
By: Jamie Bernal III