Akron--A north Akron arson is being investigated as an anti-gay hate crime, police say.
They believe a local gang burned a gay man�s home after he complained about drug activity in the neighborhood. The house was spray-painted with anti-gay and gang graffiti before being set ablaze.
The fire occurred January 15. Firefighters arrived on the scene at the corner of East York St. and Schiller Ave., just north of St. Thomas Hospital, after a passerby on a cell phone reported the fire at 7:07 that evening.
The house was owned by Eric Patterson, who was away at the time.
Patterson, who bought the home in August and renovated it, had been engaged in a personal crusade to stop the drug trafficking in front of it since he moved in.
He and other neighbors have confronted gangs and called Akron police on numerous occasions in attempts to curb the drug activity.
Patterson said he lives openly gay and the people in the neighborhood, including those doing the drug dealing, know his sexual orientation.
�I�m not going to hide who I am,� said Patterson. �I have people over all the time, and they all see how I carry myself. I was very proud of the house and open with it.�
Patterson said the dealers would go by the house and yell things like �That�s where the fag lives.�
Three days before the arson, Patterson tried to break up drug-dealing on the corner in front of his house and got into a confrontation. He said the five men threw stones back at him, yelling �faggot!� Some of those stones are still on the house�s porch.
Lt. Dennis Nelson of the arson unit of the Akron Fire Department said investigators have proven that multiple fires were set inside the house using an ignitable liquid, probably gasoline.
According to police reports, perpetrators entered the house through a first floor window and exited through the back door.
Nelson said the fire burned approximately 10-12 minutes from ignition to the time firefighters arrived. Most of the damage is on the second floor.
Before setting the fire, perpetrators ransacked the house and stole a safe containing some money and jewelry. Patterson�s art collection and antique furniture from his great-great grandmother was destroyed by the fire.
The arsonists also left graffiti calling cards in black spray paint on the first floor and in the basement stairwell.
The messages include �WHITE FAG MOVE� on the basement door, and �FAG NOW U have to MOVE� in the stairwell.
�YOUR ASS NEXT FAG� is painted in an office off the kitchen, next to �F.T.P. FAG�S ALL DYE� and �N.S.G.� According to police, the initials, which appear in multiple messages, are the signature of the North Side Gangstas, a gang active in the neighborhood. �F.T.P.� stands for �fuck the police.�
Detective Captain Elizabeth Daugherty said the belief that the crime is a hate crime �raises the priority� for police.
Patterson said the house was for sale before the arson, as he was getting tired of the drug activity. He said his insurance company says the fire did $150,000 of damage to the structure alone, not counting the contents, and he is not sure he wants to return.
�I don�t want them to think they have chased me out,� said Patterson, �but they said they will be back.�
Patterson said he does not fault Akron police or the city for the gang activity.
�Every time I called, they were there within minutes,� said Patterson, who added that he could identify the men who threw stones at him in a lineup.
At press time, there have been no arrests and no suspects identified.
The state of Ohio and the city of Akron have laws enhancing the penalty for intimidation crimes committed on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity and national origin. Neither, however, cover sexual orientation, despite police classification of this crime as a gay hate crime.
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