‘Hate crimes’ rarely prosecuted
EAGLE COUNTY ” Letecia Harrison, a Hispanic activist, says teenagers fire racial slurs at each other more often than do adults in Eagle County.
“That happens a lot among the teenagers in school more than among the adults,” Harrison said. “They don’t have as many boundaries as adults.”
Hispanics born in the United States can be aggressive toward Mexican immigrants because of social and economic class differences, Harrison said, while whites and Hispanics often ignore one another.
A crime called “ethnic intimidation,” which was passed in 1988 and is dubbed a hate crime by many, was expanded recently by the state legislature to include sexual orientation. The law has most recently has attracted attention in the Montrose slaying of a gay man, Kevin Hale.
“In layman vernacular it is a hate crime,” said Sgt. Susan Douglas of the Vail Police Department.
The Ethnic Intimidation Act makes it a crime to harass or attack a person based on their race, color, ancestry, religion or sexual orientation. An attack, considered a felony, is punishable by up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Within the past four years, Vail police have filed ethnic intimidation charges just once. In January 2005, a man called the Polish boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend a “polack.” The charge was later dropped because the slur was not considered egregious.
Avon reported just one case since 1998. The event took place in July 2004 and involved an employer allegedly using racial slurs to threaten an employee. The employer was arrested for ethnic intimidation and other charges.
Eagle Police Chief Rick Sliger said he can’t remember an instance in the past two years.
The charge has landed in the Eagle County District Attorney’s Office just two times in the past two years. Both cases are still pending, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said, who added Hispanics are usually the target of ethnic intimidation.
But making an ethnic intimidation charge stick is difficult, Douglas said.
“You have to have the direct statement or some kind of linkage,” Douglas said. “You have to be able to show that it is the reason the crime was committed.”
Because of this difficulty, the charge can go unreported, Hurlbert said.
“When is it really used for intimidation ” not every racial slur is ethic intimidation,” Hurlbert said. “I think it happens more often than it is reported.”
But Avon Det. Mike Leake said the charge is not difficult to prove.
“If people are engaged in a harassment case verbally, and they make a statement referring to the person’s ethnic origin, then it’s ethnic intimidation,” Leake said.
Oftentimes, ethnic intimidation charges are filed to enhance other violations, said Krista Jaramillo, spokeswoman for Avon police.
“It works essentially just like the domestic violence … it has to be in conjunction with something else,” Jaramillo said.
An FBI report found 82 hate crimes were committed in Colorado during 2003, although not every law enforcement agency in the county or state reports the statistic to the bureau.
State Rep. Mark Larson, District 59, said he doesn’t know that there is an accurate mechanism to count the number of ethnic intimidation cases in the state.
In the past Larson sponsored bills to expand ethnic intimidation to include discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The House Republican said the charge can help criminals by “facing the person you’ve committed the act against” to promote understanding and regret.
Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.org.