A black man was charged with a hate crime for allegedly calling police officers Nazis during an arrest on September 23, 2016, according to a report by The Appeal.
Fifty-two-year-old Robbie Sanderson from North Carolina was arrested for retail theft in 2016 in Crafton, Pennsylvania, a borough west of Pittsburgh. During the arrest, Sanderson called police "Nazis," “skinheads” and “Gestapo,” a police affidavit reportedly stated, according to The Appeal. Authorities then charged Sanderson with "ethnic intimidation."
Blavity confirmed in a phone call with the Allegheny County District Court that public records indicate a man named Robbie Sanderson was arrested on that date and indeed charged with "ethnic intimidation."
Pennsylvania's state statute says a person commits ethnic intimidation with "…malicious intention toward the race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals…"
Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania, told The Appeal the charge against Sanderson was "inappropriate" as the statute is not supposed to be used when a defendant uses racially driven remarks that are not motivated by ethnic bias.
“This is not what the hate crime statute was for," Roper said. "This is criminalizing pure speech, and that violates the First Amendment.”
According to The Appeal, Sanderson was arrested after CVS employees identified him as the subject of a call from a motorist who said they saw a black man pulling on the rear doors of the building. After police detained Sanderson, they allegedly found a little more than $100 worth of stolen merchandise from CVS, according to a police affidavit.
The affidavit also reportedly noted Sanderson allegedly told police “that’s why motherf**kers are killing y’all out here," and “all you cops just shoot people for no reason."
Blavity confirmed the ethnic intimidation charge against Sanderson was withdrawn from the district court level, as The Appeal reported, in a phone call with the Allegheny County District Court.
Pennsylvania public records show Sanderson pleaded guilty to retail theft and resisting arrest and was sentenced to one-year probation. Other charges made against him, like terroristic threats with the intent to terrorize another and institutional vandalism, were withdrawn at the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
Although the ethnic intimidation charge against Sanderson was later withdrawn, as Roper noted to The Appeal, authorities charging defendants based on disrespect is a concern.
“What you have is police officers essentially punishing people for disrespect to police officers by adding on criminal charges,” she said. “And that’s just inappropriate. The things they are saying are deeply offensive, but they are not criminal.”