During the midst of racial upheaval in Lima, Ohio, last year, community activist Jason Upthegrove received a package that contained an undeniable threat: a hangman's noose.
Yesterday, federal officials said a Portland, Ore., man with ties to a white supremacist group has been indicted and arrested on charges he mailed that noose to Mr. Upthegrove - and sent "hate flyers" to some Lima residents.
"I think anyone who received a threat on their life, especially at their home where their wife and children sleep every night, certainly takes it seriously. I did and I do," said Mr. Upthegrove, president of the Lima chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Daniel Lee Jones, 32, who was identified as a regional director for the American National Socialist Workers Party, has been charged in U.S. District Court in Toledo with mailing a threatening communication and interfering with federally protected activities. If convicted, he could face up to six years in prison and fines of up to $350,000.
Prosecutors said Mr. Jones mailed the noose to Mr. Upthegrove's home and racist literature to Lima residents in the aftermath of the Jan. 4, 2008, shooting of Tarika Wilson by Lima police. Wilson, 26, a biracial woman, was shot to death by Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, who is white, during a drug raid at her south side home. Wilson's 1-year-old son, Sincere, was injured in the gunfire.
The incident led to allegations by some in the African-American community in Lima who charged that the city's mostly white police department targeted blacks.
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Mr. Upthegrove, 43, was vocal in the call for change.
"Mailing a noose to an individual who advocates for racial equality sends a clear threat of violence," said Thomas E. Perez, an assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, said nooses have long been used as a sign of intimidation.
"A noose is a symbol of lynching and this is why it's used against African-Americans," Ms. Mayo said. "It's clearly used to intimidate people."
She said Mr. Jones is a white supremacist who was involved, but not a leader, in the American National Socialist Workers Party, a neo-Nazi group that bragged on its Web site in 2008 about sending racist propaganda to Lima residents after the Tarika Wilson shooting.
"Part of what groups like this do is go in and exploit a situation that already exists," Ms. Mayo said. "They go into a community where there's already a problem or an issue that's creating tension and they exploit it."
Mr. Upthegrove said that after he received the package, which also contained "literature and other things," he reported the incident to the Allen County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff contacted the FBI, and federal investigators asked that he not speak about the case while the investigation was under way.
"I just made a decision not to make a big deal out of it because I didn't want to feed into the cowardice of the act," Mr. Upthegrove said. "There is a court of law that deals with violations of people's rights. I feel good about the fact that the FBI and the Department of Justice take things seriously and were finally able to gain evidence to seek an indictment."
David Bauer, an assistant U.S. attorney in Toledo, said Mr. Jones was to have an initial appearance in federal court in Portland yesterday and would be brought to Toledo for trial.
After the Wilson shooting, Sergeant Chavalia was tried and acquitted in Allen County Common Pleas Court on misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and negligent assault. While he has returned to work, the U.S. Department of Justice is continuing its review of the case to determine whether police violated any federal civil-rights laws.
In the meantime, Mr. Upthegrove has been involved in a long-term process the city of Lima undertook to heal wounds and repair what many in the community felt was fueling its problems.
The city is close to establishing a civilian review board that would examine the actions of police when complaints are filed against officers. Mayor David Berger said the city also has charter amendments on the Nov. 3 ballot intended to make its hiring process less restrictive so that it can develop a more diverse city work force.
Mr. Upthegrove agreed that progress is being made.
"There's a lot of great energy in the community, but there's still a lot of work to be done," he said.
Mayor Berger said he hoped to "see severe consequences" for whoever mailed the noose.
"I think we often tend to think in fairly narrow ranges of how we interact with one another in a community and here we have someone who literally reaches across the country to terrorize a local person. It's just absolutely stunning," Mr. Berger said.
He called Mr. Upthegrove a very visible and articulate leader for the NAACP "who cares deeply about poor people and about marginalized people. I think that exposed him in a way that is really unfortunate to folks that are just really irresponsible and brutal in the way they deal with others."
Mr. Upthegrove said it comes with the territory.
"The work of civil advocacy is tough work and it can somehow be hindered when you have people trying to intimidate you or bully you, and that's certainly not something I take lightly," he said. "The protection of my family is of utmost importance to me."
Contact Jennifer Feehan at:
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