3 arrested in anti-Obama graffiti

November 21, 2008 2:17:25 PM PST
Three men accused of spray-painting racist and lewd graffiti on about 40 vehicles, including messages targeting President-elect Barack Obama, are not being charged with a hate crime because none of the victims were specifically targeted because of their race, a Long Island police official said Friday. The Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes, reports there have been "hundreds" of such incidents since the election, many more than usual, said its director, Mark Potok.

But Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said Friday that the men who "tagged" dozens of cars on Nov. 12 "just threw in" references to Obama as part of a joke they were playing on friends when they vandalized cars in an eastern Long Island neighborhood with spray paint.

The Secret Service is still investigating, said spokesman Darrin Blackford.

"This particular incident was not directed at any particular person, or protected class, based on their ethnic background, their religion and so forth," Dormer said at a press conference. "These were three guys who went down to that street to just put their stuff on the cars for fun."

Dormer conceded that while a racist word appeared in some of the graffiti, its use "does not rise to the level of a hate crime unless it's directed at an individual."

"They were fooling around, they wanted to fool around with their friends," he said. "It was a joke, that kind of thing, they thought. We don't think it's a joke."

The suspects, Thomas Kujan, Fiore D'Angelo, both 20, and Skylar Santiago, 21, were each issued a summons charged with criminal mischief to vehicles. The names of their attorneys were not immediately available.

The incident occurred four days after an Ecuadorean immigrant was fatally stabbed in a confrontation with seven teenagers in Patchogue, about 10 miles west of Mastic. The teenager accused of inflicting the fatal blow is charged in an indictment with murder as a hate crime. His attorney says his client is innocent.

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