An Indiana man was slapped with federal charges after authorities say he waged a campaign of racist harassment of his Black neighbor after a dispute over a tree.
The United States Department of Justice announced charges against 50-year-old Shepherd Hoehn on Aug. 6. Court documents claim the Lawrence, Indiana, resident became upset with his Black neighbor because the neighbor hired a construction crew to cut down a tree in his own yard.
A person holds a sign reading “Black Lives Matter” at a protest. (Photo: Bill Tompkins/Getty Images)
Hoehn “took several steps to intimidate and interfere with his neighbor and the construction workers,” according to a press release from the Justice Department. He reportedly “created and displayed a swastika on a fence facing the man’s property; placed and burned a cross above the fence line facing the man’s property; created and displayed a large sign next to the swastika containing a variety of anti-Black racial slurs; visibly displayed a machete near the sign; and loudly played the song ‘Dixie’ on repeat.”
When the FBI spoke to Hoehn, he admitted he wanted to upset his neighbor.
“I don’t care. I wanted to piss him off. I wanted to make him miserable,” he told investigators, news station WRTV reported.
On July 1, the FBI raided Hoehn’s home, where they recovered “several firearms and drug paraphernalia,” the press release stated. The agents also found out he was a fugitive from a case in Missouri, which makes it illegal for him to possess a gun.
Hoehn was charged with two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. He was also charged with violating the Fair Housing Act “for making threats to intimidate and interfere with his African American neighbor because of the neighbor’s race and because of his use and enjoyment of his property.”
If convicted, he faces a maximum of ten years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each count. The FBI worked with the Lawrence Police Department on the investigation.
“Although the First Amendment protects hateful, ignorant and morally repugnant beliefs and speech, it does not protect those who choose to take criminal actions based on those beliefs,” Southern District of Indiana U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said. “This office will continue to prosecute federal hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”