Indiana man faces federal hate crime charge after burning cross in yard during dispute with neighbor

Indiana man faces federal hate crime charge after burning cross in yard during dispute with neighbor
Stock photo of a gavel. (Marilyn Nieves/E+ / Getty Images)

LAWRENCE, Ind. — A Lawrence, Indiana, man is facing serious jail time and a federal hate crime charge after authorities argue he threatened and intimidated a neighbor, including the burning of a cross on his own property that targeted the neighbor’s line of sight.

United States Attorney Josh Minkler said 50-year-old Shepard Hoehn is accused of making the threats “because of the neighbor’s race and because of his use and enjoyment of his property,” WXIN reported.

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Hoehn is also charged with two counts of unlawfully possessing firearms and faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each of the three charges.

“The FBI takes allegations of civil rights violations very seriously and will not tolerate harassment and intimidation directed at individuals because of their race, sexual identity or religious beliefs,” Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan, FBI Indianapolis, told the TV station.

“Such incidents represent not just an attack on an individual, but also on the victim’s community, and are intended to create fear. The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to work to identify those committing these acts to ensure the rights of all Americans are protected,” Keenan added.

Specifically, Hoehn is accused of displaying a swastika on a fence facing the property of his neighbor, who is Black. He is also accused of burning the cross above the fence line facing the man’s property, placing a sign next to the swastika with anti-Black slurs, displaying a machete next to the sign and repeatedly playing the song “Dixie” at high volume, WTHR reported.

“Although the First Amendment protects hateful, ignorant and morally repugnant beliefs and speech, it does not protect those who choose to take criminal actions based on those beliefs,” Minkler said when announcing the charges Thursday. “This office will continue to prosecute federal hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”

Hoehn reportedly told investigators with both the Lawrence Police Department and the FBI that he was angry over a dispute with the neighbor and “knew his actions would cause his neighbors to feel intimidated and be afraid,” WXIN reported.

During the execution of a search warrant on Hoehn’s property, investigators found drug paraphernalia and several firearms. A fugitive warrant out of Missouri, they said, prohibits Hoehn from possessing guns, WTHR reported.