Police combed pistol permit applications to charge tattoo artist in two-year racist graffiti probe
Raymond Stevens, 42, of 22 Church St., Pembroke is charged with criminal mischief for allegedly defacing three homes where African refugees lived. Police say his conduct was motivated by his hostility and hatred for the victims' race and national origin, making him eligible for enhanced penalties under the special felony offense statute (RSA 651:6, I(f)). If convicted, he faces 10 to 30 years in state prison.
Police allege Stevens also defaced a fourth home in 2012, but did not include that incident in the overall felony charge because handwriting experts could not conclusively match that graffiti to Stevens' handwriting.
A self-employed tattoo artist who owned The Tattomb tattoo parlor in Nashua, Stevens could enter no plea to the single felony charge at his video arraignment in 6th Circuit District Court in Concord Tuesday.
Judge M. Kristin Spath set bail at $8,000 cash or surety. A probable cause hearing is set for Oct. 24.
Stevens allegedly watched homes in Concord's thickly settled South End to learn where African refugees lived, then snuck out early Sunday mornings to write his racist slurs, urging refugees to go back to their homelands and encouraging Concordians to join his cause, authorities allege.
Graffiti was scrawled on the exterior sidings of houses at 3 Perley St., 50 Perley St. , 35 Downing St. on Sept. 18, 2011, and at 28 Thompson St. on Aug. 5, 2012. The incidents sent a wave of fear through the African refugee community, forcing one family to move to Texas, authorities and a refugee advocate said.
"What made these crimes truly despicable is that all of these houses had small children living in them at the time," Concord Police Chief John F. Duval said at a media conference at police headquarters.
Some children became too scared to sleep alone in their bedrooms or play outside in their yards, he said.
"you are not welcome here...you bring death where ever your cursed People go," Stevens allegedly wrote at 3 Perley St. He is accused of writing "this is a ghetto waiting to happen"at 35 Downing St.
Refugee advocate Honore Murenzi congratulated Concord police and other law enforcement agencies for their work.
"It's a relief for the community because we didn't know what will be next. Some people though it would be killing," Murenzi said of the refugees forced to flee their war-torn homelands of Somalia and the Congo.
"When they came here, they came for safety and love ... When someone writes such things, where are we going to go now? They were almost at the end of the earth," added Murenzi, director of New African Americans based in Concord.
Indeed, police said Stevens' former business associate told them Stevens wanted to "'drive them (refugees) out of the neighborhoods' and even spoke of burning down their homes with them inside," police allege in a detailed 11-page arrest warrant affidavit.
Stevens also is accused of throwing bricks through store windows of a Nashua T-shirt shop a black man opened near Steven's 35 Railroad Square tattoo shop in 2006. He hoped to drive the owner out of business "because he wanted Nashua to be a 'whites only' community," Concord police allege Stevens' former business partner told them.
After smashing the windows once, Stevens stopped in pretending to be a concerned business owner though his "true intent was to find out how many more times he had to break the windows in order to get rid of the business," police said Stevens' former girlfriend told them. The owner allegedly replied he couldn't afford the increased insurance costs much longer. Police allege Stevens then broke the windows two more times, then bragged when he drove the shop out of business.
2,000 percent certain
When shown the racist graffiti from the Concord homes, the ex-girlfriend said she was "2000 percent certain" the handwriting was Stevens', the affidavit alleges.
"This was a unique case in which the one type of evidence we had in abundance was the suspect's handwriting," Detective Wade M. Brown wrote.
Investigators said the handwriting in the 2011 incidents was consistent and contained distinct characteristics they hoped would help them identity the person responsible. The letter "b" — written like the number "6 — was the most obvious, along with improper capitalizations and unusual word choices, police allege.
Police pored through more than a thousand criminal case files of South End incidents between 2009 and 2011 looking for a match with no luck. Without any substantive leads, they suspended the case in December 2011 pending new information.
They reopened the case Aug. 5, 2012 when a hate message was scribbled on the home of an African refugee family at 28 Thompson St.
"WE CANNOT COEXIST WITH THIRD WORLD SCUM," the author wrote in permanent black marker. He called the occupants "Primitive beasts."
Taking an "investigative long shot," detectives began going through 1,500 Concord pistol permit applications — most of which were handwritten — looking for writing that matched the "telltale 'b'' and three other distinct letters.
There was no reason to believe a handgun was involved in the case or that the suspect owned one. It was simply "another pool of available handwriting samples," the affidavit said.
On Sept. 12, 2012, detectives found an application taken out by Stevens on which the handwriting appeared to be an "exact match" to the graffiti, the affidavit alleges. Until that point, they knew nothing about Stevens or his background.
At that time, he lived at 13B Downing St. and found racist cartoons, graphics and diatribes publicly posted on his two Facebook accounts.
Police interviewed witnesses, executed search warrants at Stevens' home, Nashua business and vehicle where they said they seized handwriting samples and racist messages.
Last November, Concord police submitted Stevens' handwriting samples to an FBI handwriting analyst who found Stevens was the author of the 2011 racist graffiti.
But the FBI analyst could not make a determination on the 2012 graffiti because the writing appeared to be distorted, the affidavit alleged.
As a result, the graffiti written on 28 Thompson St. in 2012 is not included in the felony charge against Stevens.