Statham's home vandalized

Image of a cross formed on educator's lawn investigated by police as possible hate crime

Ellicott City

July 09, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Howard County police are investigating a possible hate crime after the shape of a cross was formed into the front lawn of a top education official who was recently cleared of allegations that she abused her power by seeking preferential treatment for her daughter.

At a news conference at police headquarters yesterday, Howard police and the county chapter of the NAACP denounced the vandalism at the Ellicott City home of Kimberly Statham. Police offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and indictment.

"We will do everything in our power to resolve this as quickly as possible," Police Chief G. Wayne Livesay said. "This is the first hate crime [in Howard County] I can recall in many, many years."

Jenkins Odoms Jr., president of the Howard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the county's image has been hurt by "the actions of a few individuals filled with hate and bias."

"I was hoping that in the year 2004, we were beyond this," Odoms said. "We thought Howard County was beyond anything of this nature. We figured this is one of the better counties in the state to live in."

The Stathams, who are African-American, did not attend yesterday's news conference.

Statham's husband, Michael V. Statham, discovered the vandalism Wednesday afternoon and called police, Livesay said. At the time, his two teenage children were home with him, an NAACP spokeswoman said.

Investigators found discolored brown grass in the shape of a cross on the lawn. Two shallow holes in the ground - within the outline of the cross - mark spots where investigators took soil samples for chemical analysis.

The cross, which begins at the curb, is about 3 feet wide at the base, extends 12 feet into the center of the yard and is about 8 feet wide.

Any chemical applied to the lawn probably would have taken some time to discolor the grass, Livesay said. Police believe a chemical or weed killer was applied Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Livesay declined to comment on whether police had focused their investigation on anyone.

In February, the Howard County schools superintendent, John R. O'Rourke - who stepped down in March - demoted Kimberly Statham, the deputy superintendent, and Roger Plunkett, an assistant superintendent. They were suspected of intimidating educators in an effort to get a grade changed for Statham's daughter, who attended Centennial High School in Ellicott City.

Statham and Plunkett were reinstated in May by the county school board, triggering angry reactions from many parents and teachers.

Asked whether the cross incident was connected to the events surrounding Kimberly Statham and Centennial High, Livesay said, "I don't know enough yet to say it's in retaliation for anything."

While Statham had been the focus of the school system inquiry this year, her husband had also been drawn into the controversy. An anonymous letter, allegedly written by a teacher to the school board, claimed that Michael Statham, a former Prince George's County attorney, verbally intimidated school staff members.

Last month, after angry parents and staff at an emotional meeting at Centennial denounced the board's decision to reinstate Statham and Plunkett, the Howard NAACP published a letter in local newspapers charging that there is "an underlying core of racism in Howard County, which has become embedded in the culture of some of our schools."

Livesay said that he had spoken with Michael Statham and that police had taken "many precautions" for the safety of the family and the neighborhood.

The Stathams have lived in the home since it was built in 1989, according to state property records. At the home yesterday afternoon, Michael Statham, appearing shaken, came to the front door but declined to discuss the incident.

"We have no comment," he said. "We've turned it over to the police, and we trust that they'll investigate thoroughly."

His wife, through her attorney, George Nilson, also declined to comment.

"She knows the police are looking into the matter and has confidence that they'll do their job," Nilson said.

The number of hate incidents has fallen in the county from 66 in 2001 to 28 over the past year, according to the Howard County Human Rights Commission. A hate incident is defined by the Justice Department as an action where someone is offended by bias exhibited by another person, but no crime - such as destruction of property or assault - is necessarily committed.

The incident at the Statham's house is being investigated as a hate crime because of the destruction of property involved, a police spokeswoman said.

Sun staff writer Tricia Bishop contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.