A magistrate judge on Wednesday ordered that a central Vermont man be held in a detention center while he awaits future court hearings, following accusations that are believed to be the first in the state to bring a federal hate crime prosecution.
Police in Barre City said in late July that Stuart Kurt Rollins made life hell for his neighbors, a mostly-Hispanic family.
According to documents filed in Burlington last week by federal prosecutors, Rollins "terrorized" that family with ethnic slurs and racist insults, threatening to burn down their home and get them off his street.
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Investigators said it got so bad the kids couldn't play in their own yard or even look out their windows, which were blacked out with heavy curtains so the children couldn't see Rollins exposing his naked body to them. One of the children was experiencing night terrors following the run-ins with Rollins, according to the documents filed by the prosecutors.
Rollins pleaded not guilty last week to making the threats.
The online investigative news source VTDigger reported that U.S. Attorney for Vermont Christina Nolan said, to her knowledge, that the Rollins case is the first federal hate crime prosecution in Vermont.
In a federal courtroom Wednesday, where news cameras aren't allowed, Rollins was ordered detained as the case moves forward.
The attorney for Rollins, Assistant Federal Defender David McColgin, said his client has schizophrenia and hallucinates, hearing voices. McColgin added in arguments before U.S. Magistrate Judge Conroy that it would be a mistake to use the criminal justice system as a way of dealing with someone with a serious mental health issue, hoping the judge would authorize Rollins to be released on conditions.
However, Conroy sided with Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Torti, who focuses on civil rights issues. Torti argued the Hispanic family's safety, and that of other community members, couldn't be assured were Rollins to be released.
Last year, state and local police in Vermont reported 45 hate incidents, according to data provided to necn by Capt. Garry Scott of the Vermont State Police. That number was up from 34 in 2017.
Scott, reached by phone Wednesday, offered context about how the public should interpret those numbers, noting that they may be rising because police may be getting better about documenting some cases. Scott noted that other cases could be mis-coded in law enforcement officials' systems, and still more crimes may be undocumented if they go unreported for various reasons, such as a language barrier.
Skylar Wolfe heads SafeSpace, which is an anti-violence program of the Pride Center of Vermont.
"Maybe we stop focusing as much on the differences from year to year, and more so focus on 'this is happening and it's still happening,' which isn't okay," Wolfe suggested, when asked by necn about the increase in state numbers year-to-year.
Earlier this year, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, appointed the state's first-ever state director of racial equity, aiming to boost inclusivity.
When asked by Stewart Ledbetter, the senior reporter for necn affiliate NBC 5 News, in August how she will measure success, the new appointee, Xusana Davis, responded, "When Vermont doesn't need me any more--because inclusivity will be built in."
During Wednesday's hearing, while considering those accusations against Rollins of racist taunts and threats, Judge Conroy said having a safe home is a basic human right. He then ordered Rollins to be held pending future court hearings.