Obscenities and racial slurs spray painted on homes, cars, fences in Sullivan County

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-01-2023 10:24 PM

NEWPORT — The homeowner whose property was defaced with racist graffiti said he is overwhelmed with gratitude for the outpouring of support from fellow residents after his multi-racial household was targeted by vandals.

“I feel more safer today than the day before because of the community and neighbors that have reached out. And everybody’s got their eyes and ears open that there’s an idiot or idiots out there,” said Ken Sawyer.

Sawyer woke up on Tuesday morning to a neighbor’s text informing him that racist slurs had been spray painted on the family’s car, garage and yard fence.

“We’ve had people stop by in cars, one lady in tears saying she’s so sorry what happened to us. A lot of neighbors stop to let us know they are sorry that it happened, a lot of people reaching out to us,” Sawyer told the Valley News on Wednesday.

Among the good will gestures from the community: A painting company has volunteered a crew to come and repaint the exterior of his property that was defaced, Sawyer said.

Police are investigating a rash of vandalism and graffiti — some of it racist nature — that targeted properties in Newport, Croydon and Claremont in the early morning Tuesday hours.

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Residents in three Sullivan County towns awoke on Halloween morning to find cars, fences and homes spray painted with obscenities, including racial slurs. Police quickly turned to the public for help in finding the perpetrator or perpetrators.

The vandalism was disturbing enough that police in Newport, where the brunt of the defacements occurred, alerted the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office to the occurrence of a potential hate crime, a spokesman for the department confirmed. The state plays a role in investigations of civil rights violations.

“The Civil Rights Unit will work collaboratively with the Newport Police Department to investigate this matter and take whatever actions are appropriate given the facts and circumstances as they develop,” Michael Garrity, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said via email on Wednesday.

Newport Police Chief Alex Lee said that about “half a dozen” different properties had been defaced in town. He estimated it occurred over a 10-hour period in the overnight hours from late Monday evening through early Tuesday morning.

“Not all of (the graffiti) was racist but, all of its was derogatory,” Lee said on Wednesday. Photos from some locations were shared on social media.

Lee declined to say whether the acts were committed by a single individual or multiple people but said that police have been “canvassing” neighborhoods and requesting video camera surveillance footage from businesses and homes in order to get leads on suspects and the timeline of the attacks.

Despite the vandalism occurred on the night before Halloween, Lee discounted that it was linked to the kind of schoolboy pranks associated with “mischief night” when teenagers bomb front yards with toilet paper and eggs.

“Without giving out details why, we have no reason to believe this was related to any sort of Halloween or mischief night type of prank,” he said.

Lee noted that a charge of criminal mischief comes with an enhanced penalty if “motivated by hostility toward a protected class.”

Newport police also have been assisted by New Hampshire state troopers in the investigation.

Sawyer said the police responded “swiftly, professionally” to the attack, “canvassing the neighborhood” and requesting camera recordings from doorbell ringers.

“They’ve done their due diligence,” he said.

But civil penalties for hate crimes can also encumber a convicted offender. Under state law, a person guilty of violating the Civil Rights Act can be fined up to $5,000 for each violation and be ordered to pay restitution to the victims, among other penalties, Garrity noted.

Sawyer said he was taken aback by the amount of community support — one person within hours put up a GoFundMe page to gather donations to get Sawyer’s property repainted before he said there was no need. He called the vandalism a “big surprise” in a community where his household had never previously encountered hostility.

The message from community members is “we’re not going to let the actions of a few affect how we feel about the town,” he said.

“It’s a nice town. We really do like it here,” Sawyer said.

And Sawyer thinks justice will be served in the end.

“They’ll get caught,” he said of the perpetrators.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.