The Department of Justice announced today that Paul Beebe and Jesse Sanford of Farmington, New Mexico pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The pleas were entered federal hate crime charges associated with the racially-motivated assault on Vincent Kee, a 22-year-old developmentally disabled Navajo.

William Hatch of Fruitland, New Mexico, a third defendant, pleaded guilty in June 2011 to conspiracy to commit a federal hate crime.

According to the DOJ Beebe, Hatch and Sanford were indicted by a federal grand jury in November, 2010 on one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (Shepard/Byrd Act). They became the first defendants charged under the law that was enacted in October 2009.

At a press conference following the announcement of the guilty pleas, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez stated, “Since bringing the charges in this case, we have charged three more cases under the law. We have planned or participated in dozens of training conferences throughout the country, bringing together federal, state and local law enforcement, along with community stakeholders, to educate them about the law and its implementation. More than 80 investigations have been opened under the new law, and we will continue our efforts to aggressively enforce it.”

In the DOJ’s initial press release Perez said, “Deplorable, hate-filled incidents like this one have no place in a civilized society. The Justice Department is committed to using all the tools in our law enforcement arsenal, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, to prosecute acts of hate.”

The two defendants admitted to the following during the hearing:

  • That Beebe took the victim to his apartment that was adorned with racist paraphernalia, including a Nazi flag and a woven dream catcher with a swastika in it;
  • Once the victim had fallen asleep, the defendants began defacing the victim’s body by drawing on him with blue, red and black markers;
  • When the victim woke up, Beebe branded him with a coat hanger bent in the form of a swastika;
  • To coercing the victim to agree to the branding while recording it on a cell phone;
  • Admitted to defacing Kee’s body with white supremacist and anti-Native American symbols, including shaving a swastika in the back of his head and using markers to write the words “KKK” and “White Power” within the swastika;
  • They admitted to drawing an ejaculating penis and testicles on the victim’s back while telling him they were drawing his “Native pride feathers.”

All of this was caught on the cell phone as the defendants shared it with law enforcement as “proof” that Kee consented to their acts.

“No one anywhere, but especially in a state like New Mexico that prides itself on its ethnic, racial and cultural diversity, should be victimized because of what he or she happens to be,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico Kenneth J. Gonzales. “The young victim in this case was assaulted, branded and scarred because he happens to be a Native American – that simply is inexcusable and criminal. Today’s guilty pleas demonstrate the law enforcement community’s resolve to bring to justice anyone who victimizes a person because of the color of their skin or ethnic heritage.”

“As the primary federal agency responsible for investigating allegations regarding violations of federal civil rights statutes, the FBI stands committed to protecting the freedoms of all Americans,” said Carol K.O. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI. “We remain dedicated to working with our state and local partners to aggressively investigate hate crimes and other civil rights violations. I would like to commend the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales, the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office and the Farmington Police Department for their work on this case. I also am proud of the FBI agents who investigated this crime and helped bring the defendants to justice.”

According to the DOJ press release these guilty pleas were the result of a cooperative effort between U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the San Juan, N.M., County District Attorney’s Office.

This is positive news when it comes to hate crimes against American Indians and follows Indian Country Today Media Network’s recent coverage of two separate alleged hate crimes, in Fernley, Nevada and Clovis, California. On August 16, it was announced that Bloomfield, New Mexico Mayor Scott Eckstein would become the first mayor from a border town to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Navajo Nation to improve race relations.

“Incidents like this have no place in our nation in 2011,” said Perez at the press conference.