A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Hate crime in Ft. Wright? City, police apologize for vandalized home; discuss fairness ordinance

By Patricia A. Scheyer
NKyTribune reporter

Fort Wright police received a call to 1660 Amsterdam Road to deal with a burglary in progress on September 18. However, there was no burglary when the police arrived. Instead they found the words, ‘Hell is Real’ spray painted on the side of the residence in bright blue spray paint.

The incident was discussed at the Fort Wright City Council meeting last week.

A Gay Pride flag was once stolen from this home and “Hell in real” was painted in bright blue paint under the window. (Photo by Patricia Scheyer/NKyTribune)

A resident of Glazier drive, Whitney O’Neal, friend of the family who live at the vandalized home, told the police and Jill Bailey, Fort Wright City Administrator, that the family are the victims of an alleged hate crime because the family displays a Gay Pride flag at their residence. She indicated that the parents at the residence are a lesbian couple, and they have told her that they are so shaken by the incident that they don’t feel safe and are considering moving.

Elise Sebastian, one of the residents, told Chief Ed Butler that their 11-year-old daughter is traumatized by the incident. She also said in 2021, someone had stolen their flag and the flag pole but they didn’t report the incident to the police.

Elise Sebastian and her wife, Hannah, came to the regular Ft Wright council meeting last week to call for action from the city. They explained that they have always tried to be good neighbors and loved living in Fort Wright. However their peacefulness was shattered, and they are trying to put their lives back together.

Mayor Dave Hatter (Photo by Patricia Scheyer/NKyTribune)

“After returning home from dinner that evening, we noticed the phrase spray painted on the side of our home in deep blue paint just under our daughter’s bedroom window and adjacent to our Pride flag, and it read ‘Hell is Real’,” she said. “We believe that if we had a fairness ordinance in our city, like 24 Kentucky cities have already instituted, the kindness and genuine concern we received from people like Mayor Hatter, people like Police Chief Butler, Captain Colwell and Sergeant Millay, those things would have been maximized.

“We were shocked to learn that the simple yet powerful regulation was dismissed from city council back in 2021. Even with the resolution brought before you today, It feels like we’re so close. But legally a fairness ordinance is not in place. It makes sense to pass a fairness ordinance in the city to really send a message that everyone is welcome.”

Both Chief Butler and Mayor Dave Hatter said they were not aware of anything like this happening before in the city. Chief Butler explained why the crime was not reported as a hate crime.

“It’s criminal mischief by Kentucky law,” said Butler. He said that there is a box that they check that indicates it was a bias crime, but that’s all they can do. The judge will decide if it is a hate crime, based on facts. He said it is not really a police decision.

Mayor Hatter stated in the strongest language possible, that nothing like this would ever be tolerated in the city of Fort Wright and that they would track down the culprit or culprits and file charges against them with the county attorney.

Then he had the City Attorney, Tim Theissen, read a resolution condemning the incident and vowing that nothing like that would ever be tolerated in the city.

Elise Sebastian and Hannah Windhorn speak to council. (Photo by Patricia Scheyer/NKyTribune)

The resolution passed unanimously.

But the couple, and the people who had attended the meeting to support them, want more support, in the form of a fairness ordinance.

Theissen explained that he had collected the fairness ordinances from surrounding cities and was studying them to see what he could recommend to council that he felt would be compatible for the city.

Talking points in favor of having a fairness ordinance are that such an ordinance may help protect vulnerable populations from discrimination in various aspects of life, including employment, housing, public accommodations, and access to services.

It can also promote equality and inclusivity and may help prevent discrimination.

Police Chief Ed Butler explained why police don’t label ‘hate crimes,’ — that’s for a judge to do. (Photo by Patricia Scheyer/NKyTribune)

It definitely sends a message that the city of Ft Wright is committed to upholding the principles of equality and civil rights by ensuring that all residents, regardless of their race, gender, orientation, gender identity or disability, are treated equally and fairly under the law. It also tells people that Fort Wright values inclusivity and is a welcoming community for everyone. Such an ordinance would reflect well on Fort Wright by showing that the city places importance on greater acceptance, and respect for diversity. In addition, a fairness ordinance may provide economic benefits by attracting a diverse and talented workforce and businesses that want to operate in a community that prioritizes diversity and inclusion.

Proponents of the ordinance contend that it can help reduce incidents of harassment and prevent systemic discrimination.

In opposition, Theissen made the point that there are existing anti-discrimination protections and laws, and these laws allow a community to prosecute crimes like the one that has taken place. He also reminded everyone that the city strives to treat all people fairly and with respect and dignity and will continue to do so without new legislation.

He pointed out that at least three NKY cities, Newport, Union and Park Hills, considered but did not enact Fairness ordinances. He asked if it is feasible to maintain a balance between protecting rights and avoiding additional and burdensome government intervention, and further queried if these additional ordinances are necessary, and/or proven effective, thus preventing such incidents from recurring? Could a fairness ordinance instead create legal disputes and litigation?

Theissen further wondered who would be responsible for enforcing the ordinance?

All in all, Theissen said that the incident in the city is outrageous, horrific and deeply troubling. He said the mayor and council have loudly condemned the incident and vowed to punish those responsible to the fullest extent of the law. He asked council to look at the pros and cons so that when they make their decision on the fairness ordinance, they will be aware that there could be unintended consequences and costs, and they should take community consensus and comments into consideration before taking action. Council should have a decision after all options are considered.

“On behalf of the whole city, please accept my deepest apologies; I feel terrible for your daughter I can only imagine what she must feel in this situation,” said Mayor Hatter. “We will look into a fairness ordinance, and take it up for discussion. In the meantime stay tuned. Be sure to Call the police if this happens to anyone. We put the word out that the city won’t tolerate this.”

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