An Ahiska Turkish family whose home and vehicles were damaged by a group of people yelling threats and ethnic insults say they feel they were specifically targeted and terrorized because of their ethnic background and Muslim faith.
Family members say it is outrageous that authorities cannot guarantee that the suspects — including a man they say threatened their lives — will face felony charges. Several people were arrested, though none are facing formal charges yet.
“These guys didn’t want to steal anything … this was not vandalism,” said Ali Shakhmandarov, 25, who lives on the 1400 block of Ray Street. “They just wanted to scare us and they did it purposefully to hurt us.”
Ohio law enhances criminal charges and penalties when ethnic intimidation is a motivating factor. But authorities said it can be difficult to prove that the race, color, religion or national origin of a victim was the motivation for a criminal action.
Also, Dayton police said the suspects indicated they believed a car belonging to the Shakhmandarov family struck one of their vehicles and fled, which could have been the motivation for the vandalism.
The vandalism and threats caused unrest among members of the local Ahiska Turkish community, some of whom felt the suspects are getting off easy.
About 200 community members flooded the street in front of the damaged home after one suspect was released from jail. Dayton is home to a few thousand Turkish refugees and the Old North Dayton neighborhood is often touted as one of the success stories of the city’s Welcome Dayton immigrant-friendly policies.
Local officials, leaders and residents have asked for patience as evidence is examined and the case moves through the justice system. They called the incident isolated and said the Dayton community strongly supports its Ahiska Turkish residents.
3 a.m. disturbance
Just after 3 a.m. Aug. 24, Ali Shakmandarov said he woke up and heard people outside yelling profanities, threats and remarks about Turkish and Russian people.
Ali Shakmandarov lives with seven relatives, including his 15-month old daughter, pregnant wife and brother Barysh Shakhmandarov. They moved to Dayton about six years ago, and they own a trucking company.
Multiple people threw rocks through the windows of the Shakmandarov home. They also smashed the windows of their 2007 Mercedes-Benz and 2005 Maserati, and dented the vehicles using potted plants and bats.
Police arrested Lindsey Snell, 20, who told officers she believed one of Shakmandarov’s cars struck her vehicle and fled, the police report states. Snell said the charges against her have been dropped. The report states that none of the damage on their cars matched the damage to her vehicle.
Police also arrested 21-year-old Dylan Ball, whose knuckles were covered in dried blood, according to the police report.
Later that day, Shakmandarov family members and their friends were involved in a verbal exchange with a man on the street who threatened to shoot and kill them. He said, “You’d better watch your (expletive) house because I’m going to blow your house up like you guys did our Twin Towers.” The threats were captured on a cell phone video.
Ryan Mills, 21, was arrested for ethnic intimidation and aggravated menacing but hasn’t been formally charged. Police and the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office reviewed the evidence and decided it did not support felony charges at this time, said Greg Flannagan, an office spokesman.
Physical evidence discovered at the scene, including blood samples, are being tested, which could lead to charges, Flannagan said.
Detectives are confident there will be misdemeanor or felony charges filed against two or three individuals, said Dayton police Maj. Brian Johns, superintendent of the east patrol operations division. He said police are working to identify additional suspects.
Attempts to contact Mills and Ball were unsuccessful.
Waiting on justice
Ohio courts have ruled that spewing ethnic slurs during a crime does not necessarily justify an ethnic intimidation charge, which can increase misdemeanor crimes to felonies.
The Dayton prosecutor’s office in 2009 filed ethnic intimidation and menacing charges against Christina Kingery after she shouted racial slurs, profanities and threats at a black mailman. Kingery was convicted of both charges, but an appeals court overturned the ethnic intimidation conviction, ruling her abuse of the mailman was not clearly motivated by his race.
Ethnic slurs can be evidence of ethnic intimidation, but the courts have made clear they can be an expression of constitutionally protected free speech, said John Danish, Dayton’s law director.
Vandalism provides more evidence of a crime, but charges may depend on how much damage an individual suspect caused, officials said. That could play into the Shakhmandarov case because multiple people were involved.
Vandalism can become a felony when the damage is more than $1,000. The Shakhmandarov family said $40,000 in damage was done to their vehicles and $3,500 to their home.
Barysh Shakhmandarov, 21, Ali’s brother, said misdemeanor charges are unacceptable because of the severity of the crimes, which included property damage and, according to him, ethnic hostility.
Ali Shakhmandarov said his family will move out of Dayton to a quieter suburb if justice is not served, and he warns other members of his large family may follow.
‘Our neighborhood has gotten a lot better’
When tensions flared following the incident, Dayton Commissioner Matt Joseph, community leader Islom Shakhbandarov and police officials helped control and calm the crowd. Islom Shakhbandarov is a relative of the victims.
The next day, the city organized a meeting so the Ahiska Turkish community could ask questions and engage in a discussion to learn more about the legal system, police procedures and what would be done to protect the family, said Melissa Bertolo, the city’s Welcome Dayton program coordinator.
“Anytime anyone in the community feels unsafe, then that’s a real problem,”she said. “I think we need to address how do we create a safe and inclusive community that people don’t feel the need to leave.”
Travis Poynter, 35, said racist attitudes are not prominent in the neighborhood, and that most people appreciate the investments, contributions and friendship of their Ahiska Turkish neighbors.
“We were about to move, before the Turks came,” he said. “Our neighborhood has gotten a lot better since they came.”