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WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that a federal grand jury in Cleveland returned a seven-count indictment charging 10 men and two women, all residents of Ohio, with federal crimes arising out of a series of religiously-motivated assaults on practitioners of the Amish religion. The indictment addresses five separate assaults that occurred between September through November 2011. In each assault, defendants forcibly removed beard and head hair from the victims with whom they had ongoing religious disputes. As set forth in the indictment, the manner in which Amish men wear their beards and Amish women wear their hair are symbols of their faith.
“Every American has the right to worship in the manner of his or her choosing without fear of violent interference,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez. “The Civil Rights Division will aggressively investigate allegations of religiously motivated violence.”
“For nearly 500 years, people have come to this land so that they could pray however and to whomever they wished,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steven M. Dettelbach. “Violent attempts to attack this most basic freedom have no place in our country.”
“One of our most fundamental rights is freedom of religion,” said Stephen Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI – Cleveland Field Office. “The FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, are committed to protecting this fundamental right against those who would use violence and intimidation to attack it.”
The indictment charges Samuel Mullet Sr., Johnny S. Mullet, Daniel S. Mullet, Levi F. Miller, Eli M. Miller, Emanuel Shrock, Lester Miller, Raymond Miller, Freeman Burkholder, Anna Miller and Linda Shrock with conspiracy to violate the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which prohibits any person from willfully causing bodily injury to any person, or attempting to do so by use of a dangerous weapon, because of the actual or perceived religion of that person, and Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1512, which prohibits obstruction of justice, including witness tampering and the destruction or concealment of evidence. The indictment also charges various groups of defendants with each separate assault, and charges Samuel Mullet Sr., Lester Mullet, Levi Miller and Lester Miller with concealing or attempting to conceal various items of tangible evidence, including a camera, photographs and an over-the-counter medication that was allegedly placed in the drink of one of the assault victims.
According to the indictment, Samuel Mullet Sr. is the Bishop of the Amish community in Bergholz, Ohio, while the remaining defendants are all members of that community. Mullet Sr. exerted control over the Bergholz community by taking the wives of other men into his home, and by overseeing various means of disciplining community members, including corporal punishment. As a result of religious disputes with other members of the Ohio Amish community, the defendants planned and carried out a series of assaults on their perceived religious enemies. The assaults involved the use of hired drivers, either by the defendants or the alleged victims, because practitioners of the Amish religion do not operate motor vehicles. The assaults all entailed using scissors and battery-powered clippers to forcibly cut or shave the beard hair of the male victims and the head hair of the female victims. During each assault, the defendants restrained and held down the victims. During some of the assaults, the defendants injured individuals who attempted to intervene to protect or rescue the victims. Following the attacks, some of the defendants participated in discussions about concealing photographs and other evidence of the assaults.
The maximum potential penalty for the conspiracy count is five years in prison. The maximum penalty for the hate crime charges is life in prison. The maximum penalty for the obstruction charge is 20 years in prison.
This case is being investigated by the Cleveland Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Getz and Bridget M. Brennan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio and Deputy Chief Kristy Parker of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.
A criminal complaint is merely an accusation. All defendants are presumed innocent of the charges until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.