A New Jersey couple says neighbors are harassing them due to their race and sexual orientation, yet local police aren't reporting the incidents as hate crimes.
Zachary Dash, 55, and Brandan Jordan, 44, live in Franklin Township, Somerset County, in north-central New Jersey.
The interracial couple has resided in their Hollywood Avenue home since October 2015. Problems with neighbors began in May 2016, they said.
Their complaints include privacy intrusions, racial and anti-LGBT slurs, motor vehicles driving toward them in an alarming manner, anonymous mail, rocks being thrown at their house and landscaping damage. The couple estimates they've called 911 a dozen times about the incidents. Yet to their knowledge, none of the calls has resulted in hate-crime reports to the FBI, they said.
In August, Dash called 911 about an unknown white male yelling slurs at him, including "faggot" and "nigger." A police report was written, classifying the incident as "harassment." But the report didn't acknowledge the incident as a hate crime, according to records obtained by the couple.
Dash recently recorded on his smartphone the response of two police officers after he called 911 about motor vehicles allegedly driving toward him in menacing ways. The incidents occurred in January and February.
In the January video, a female officer complains to Dash that she's on Hollywood Avenue "all the time." The officer gives unsolicited advice to Dash to the effect that neighbors should "stay away from each other."
Additionally, the officer tells Dash she's going to get in her car and respond to another call if Dash doesn't let her talk without interruption. Eventually, the officer agrees to write a police report.
But the report doesn't acknowledge the incident as a hate crime, the couple said.
In the February video, a male officer appears skeptical of Dash's version of events. He advises Dash against behaving in an "aggravated" and "rude" manner. The officer also chastises Dash for "rolling" his eyes when speaking to him.
Dash conveys to the officer the license-plate number of a truck that allegedly drove toward him at a high rate of speed. The officer appears to write down the number. He says he'll get back to Dash if more information is needed.
But there's been no follow-up contact by police, the couple said.
The couple expressed frustration with the way police are handling the incidents, which they perceive to be bias-motivated.
"We're absolutely the victim of multiple hate crimes, due to my husband's race and our sexual orientation," Jordan said. "The police don't seem to care. It's becoming increasingly clear they're not following up on our 911 calls. Instead, they're intimidating us. They're making us feel at greater risk of property damage and bodily harm."
Jordan added: "We're continually frustrated and confused as to why police don't take our description of events seriously. We're very concerned the situation will only get worse."
Dash said he's reluctant to leave his home.
"The fear factor is very high," he said. "Due to the stress and fear, I really don't leave the house [unless accompanied by Jordan]."
"We are a very loving and peaceful couple," Dash added. "I just can’t understand how so many people can hate someone when they don’t even know us."
Lt. Philip J. Rizzo, a police department spokesperson, issued this statement:
"A check of our records indicates that Mr. Dash and Mr. Jordan have numerous ongoing, documented disputes with several of their neighbors. While they have filed numerous police reports alleging certain acts, several of their neighbors have also filed reports against them alleging similar acts. These allegations include harassment and threats.
"I have not viewed the videos that [PGN] referenced and I do not know their origin. I refuse to make [a] comment on an individual's perception of an officer's conduct from a video that I have not had an opportunity to review or authenticate. There are appropriate channels for Mr. Dash and Mr. Jordan to follow if they believe that a call that the Franklin Township Police Department responded to was mishandled. To date, no allegations or concerns regarding the handling of any incident involving Mr. Dash or Mr. Jordan have been officially brought to the attention of the department. Neither [officer] will be commenting on their actions taken on the calls for service.
“Regarding the two motor vehicle incidents that [PGN] described, Mr. Dash and Mr. Jordan have received no information regarding a follow-up investigation because there is no follow-up investigation. Officers can only make arrests or issue summonses for violations of Title 39 (The NJ Motor Vehicle Code) under certain circumstances when the offense doesn't occur in their presence. In both of these situations, the investigation revealed that a possible motor vehicle violation may have occurred outside of the presence of the officer. In that event, the complainant would have to sign their own complaints in municipal court, as Mr. Dash was advised. No additional investigation or action would be taken by the Franklin Township Police Department."
Rizzo continued: "It is true that bias incidents are reported to the FBI through the Uniform Crime Reporting System. An offense is bias based if the 'motive' for the commission of the offense or unlawful act pertains to race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation or ethnicity. None of these incidents involving Mr. Dash or Mr. Jordan appear to be biased in nature. [PGN] wrote, 'Another concern: Neither officer asked Mr. Dash whether he believed a hate crime occurred ... ' This statement is true; neither officer did ask Mr. Dash if he believed the incidents were hate crimes, nor should they have. In 2015 the NJ State Supreme Court held in 'State of NJ v. Pomianek,' 221 NJ 66, 91 that bias must be the motivating factor behind the offense, not the perception of the victim. None of the facts and circumstance of any of these incidents produced any evidence that a bias incident has occurred."
Rizzo concluded: "The safety and security of our residents — all of our residents — is of the utmost importance to the men and women of the Franklin Township Police Department. We provide professional and fair service that is in accordance with the laws set forth by the state to all of our residents and visitors."
Jordan was asked if the couple ever harassed or threatened a neighbor.
"We categorically deny ever harassing or threatening a neighbor," Jordan replied. "We'd have nothing to gain from doing such a thing. We're a same-sex interracial couple. We have a hard enough time as it is. Why would we want to bring more hardship upon ourselves? This is crazy. We have nothing to hide."