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August 1, 2008

Neighbor dispute turns ugly
with anti-gay epithets

Cleveland--Anti-gay harassment turned to threats of violence over the last two months as the next-door neighbors of a gay man increased their verbal assaults.

Rocco Crisafi, born and raised in Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood, bought his house on Flowerdale Avenue in late 1989, five years after getting a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cleveland State University.

According to Crisafi, neighbors next door and across the street routinely yell anti-gay epithets at him when he is in his front yard.

The house next door is owned by Betty Raz, who lives there with her partner John Kolar. Her son Kenneth lives in the upstairs unit of the house, which has been in the family for decades.

Across the street lives Mary Lou Faughner, an elderly widow.

The harassment has continued for years, and in 2004 Crisafi sent letters to the mayor and other city officials asking for assistance. He never received a reply.

Most recently, Crisafi talked with Cleveland City Councilor Kevin Kelley, whose Ward 16 includes Old Brooklyn.

Kelley speaks well of Crisafi, noting that he hosted two Crime Watch meetings at his home that were well attended.

“The meeting he had was appropriate, a lot of neighbors showed up,” Kelley said. “He and some of his neighbors are working to keep things together.”

Kelley is referring Crisafi’s conflict with his neighbors to mediation, and at press time was trying to speed up the process.

While the harassment has been predominantly verbal, Raz’s other son threatened him at the beginning of June.

According to the police report, Crisafi was sitting in his front yard while Kolar was edging his grass. Some of the clippings were falling onto Crisafi’s property.

Crisafi told him to clean up the clippings, and David Raz, son of Betty Raz, came over to Crisafi and yelled, “I’m tired of you bothering my mom and her boyfriend.”

Crisafi said David Raz balled up his fist threateningly, while Kolar and Raz denied the threat.

A month later, while Crisafi was edging his driveway, police were again called, this time by the neighbors, who accused him of trespassing.

The police reports make no mention of bias motivation, although they note menacing, which is one of the offenses that fall under Cleveland’s ethnic intimidation ordinance.

Ethnic intimidation in Cleveland covers sexual orientation in addition to the categories of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, ethnic group, Vietnam-era or disabled veteran status.

Were anyone to be charged with menacing, an ethnic intimidation enhancement would automatically increased the severity of the charge one degree.

“This harassment has been going on for nearly eight years, and still nothing has changed with these people, so I’m taking more action by involving more people to demonstrate that this type of situation needs to stop and this behavior is uncalled for,” Crisafi said.

“I’m a local guy here in Old Brooklyn and have done much to establish myself as a person of responsibility and a person who gives to his community,” he noted.

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