Two Biddeford men pleaded not guilty Monday in what appears to be the first federal hate crime case of its kind in Maine.
On Friday, Dusty Leo and Maurice Diggins were arrested for having allegedly attacked and yelled racial slurs at an African-American man this spring.
The pair have already been found to have violated civil rights law in state court and will now face a federal criminal trial for allegedly conspiring to and committing a hate crime.
Leo, 27, and Diggins, 34, appear to be the first people prosecuted in Maine under a federal law passed in 2009, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine said.
The “brutality” of their alleged crimes stood out to Leanne Robbin, the assistant Maine attorney general who handled the state civil case against the men. She said it’s the first time in her two-decade tenure that federal prosecutors have charged someone with a hate crime in Maine.
In separate hearings Monday, Leo and Diggins both told Magistrate Judge John Rich III that they were not guilty and he appointed them attorneys.
Diggins’ lawyer, Randall Bates, said his client “adamantly denies any wrongdoing and is looking forward to being exonerated.” A lawyer for Leo did not immediately respond to questions.
In April, the pair allegedly assaulted a African-American man, who they did not know, after seeing him in the parking lot of a Biddeford 7-Eleven convenience store, according to federal and state court records.
“Who you eyeballing?” Diggins allegedly shouted at the 34-year-old victim, adding a racial slur.
The pair then hit the man and threw him to the pavement, breaking his jaw, according to a federal indictment and a civil rights complaint that Maine Attorney General Janet Mills brought against them in May.
[Civil rights complaint filed against Maine men accused of attacking a black man]
When the man got up and ran, the pair chased him in a truck, shouting “Where you at?” repeating the same epithet, the court documents state. Diggins has the phrase “Dirty White Boy” and a series of “Nazi Swastikas” tattooed on his arm, according to the civil complaint.
In June, a York County judge issued default judgments against both men in the civil proceeding, barring them from harassing the victim or other people based on bias. The men did not contest the civil case in court and were indicted last week by a federal grand jury for two-counts related to the same actions.
Bates did not answer a question about the civil judgment Monday, saying he hadn’t discussed it with his client.
Leo and Diggins appeared in the federal courthouse in Portland dressed in orange jumpsuits with their hands shackled to chains around their waists. They will be held pending bail hearings and federal prosecutors have asked that they not be released before their trials.
The men are scheduled to be tried in October. They each face a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for the federal hate crime charge, as well as fine of the same amount and five years in prison for the conspiracy charge.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark said the cases are the first time he’s aware of federal prosecutors in Maine bringing charges under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The decade-old law is named for a gay man and an African-American man who were tortured and killed in separate 1998 incidents, seemingly based on their race and sexual orientation.
On Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League of New England called the alleged crimes “heinous” and thanked federal prosecutors for bringing the case.
“Hate crimes demand priority attention because of their special impact,” said Robert Trestan, New England regional director of the anti-bigotry group. “Not only do they cause substantial harm to the victim, but they also intimidate and isolate the victim’s entire community and weaken the bonds of our society.”
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this story.
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