Patchogue mayor: Man accused of hate-crime had dispute with church

| September 5, 2009

A man arrested on charges of leaving anti-Hispanic messages on the altar of a Patchogue church earlier this week and flinging a log and a bottle at a churchgoer Friday night apparently was involved in a feud with the pastor over tithing or fees, the village’s mayor said Saturday.

Mayor Paul V. Pontieri Jr., reached Saturday by telephone before the arraignment of Christhian Munguia Garcia, 25, said it was Pontieri’s understanding that the dispute was over membership in the congregation of Iglesia Evangelica Refugio de Salvacion.

Even though both the alleged victims and the suspect are Hispanic, Suffolk police defended charging him with hate crimes.

"It was not a hate crime targeting ethnicity," police spokesman Tim Motz said. "It was a hate crime targeting religious practice."

On Saturday, before an afternoon service, the Rev. Roberto Sanchez, the church’s pastor, said Munguia Garcia had attended one church service but was kicked out for bad behavior.

Munguia Garcia, of 84 Norton St., was jailed on $7,500 bail at an arraignment Saturday at First District Court in Central Islip and is due back in court Thursday.

He is charged with attempted assault as a hate crime in connection with Friday night’s incident, in which Suffolk police said he hurled the wooden log and a glass bottle at a churchgoer.

No one was hit, but churchgoers chased down Munguia Garcia and then officers arrested him, authorities said.

In addition, Munguia Garcia is charged with criminal trespass, aggravated harassment and damage to religious premises greater than $50, in connection with the hate-filled notes found Tuesday night on the church altar.

At the arraignment, an assistant district attorney, Elizabeth L. Miller, said that Munguia Garcia and three others were upset with the church and on Tuesday sometime between 6 and 6:45 a.m. threw rocks, bottles and cinder blocks, breaking a church window worth $240.

But a Legal Aid attorney who represented the defendant at arraignment pointed out to Judge William Ford that it wasn’t clear that her client was the one who entered the church and left the notes; the defendant acknowledged only being in the parking lot.

The Legal Aid attorney said her client’s dispute with the church was "strictly regarding their economic practices, not their religious practices."

The church is near where Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero was fatally stabbed last fall by a group of marauding teens who, authorities said, set out to beat up "a Mexican."

On Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights group, issued a scathing report finding that anti-immigrant demagoguery in Suffolk incites violent attacks on Latinos in the county.

In the interview Saturday, Mayor Pontieri said, "What concerns me is that people immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s a white-on-Hispanic hate crime."

He added: "Life is complicated. People don’t always get along."

Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks of Suffolk’s Hate Crime Unit said the notes found on the altar were written in marker on pages ripped from a church ledger and laid out "systematically."

After the three notes were discovered Tuesday night – including one that said "Hispanics don’t rule, whites do" – churchgoers expressed sadness in interviews.

"We didn’t feel fear," Carlos Sanchez, the son of the church’s pastor, said then, "just sadness somebody broke into the church to put those letters there."

In the Friday night incident, churchgoers were leaving the church at 102 Railroad Ave. when the log and bottle came flying just before 11 p.m., police said.

Asked about the defendant Saturday, the Rev. Sanchez said: "He knows people but is not a member of this church."

In a statement, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, an avowed opponent of illegal immigration who was criticized in Wednesday’s report, said: "The apprehension of this individual is proof once again of how aggressive and effective the Suffolk Police Department has been at arresting those suspected of committing these types of horrific acts."

 

http://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/patchogue-mayor-man-accused-of-hate-crime-had-dispute-with-church-1.1424156

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