On 20 April 2017, charges were dropped against two Maryland teens who purportedly set a campaign sign for Donald Trump on fire.

Princess Anne Police Chief Timothy R. Bozman said in a statement that D’Asia Perry and Joy Shuford would no longer be charged with committing a hate crime or second-degree arson in connection with the incident, which took place six days earlier. Bozman said the charges were dismissed “based upon a joint decision between the Princess Anne Police Department and the Somerset County State’s Attorney’s Office upon reviewing the case.”

The two friends, both 19 years old, are still charged with trespassing and malicious burning.

The sign, which hangs outside of a sporting goods store in the same city, sustained $800 worth of damage but was not destroyed. The charging documents stated:

The intentional burning of these political signs, along with the beliefs, religious views and race of this political affiliation, directly coincides with the victim.

Initially, Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Caryn L. McMahon initially said that the hate charge was justified because the teens set the sign on fire “with discrimination or malice toward a particular group or someone’s belief.”

Perry and Shuford are both black. Store owner Robert Wink, a Trump supporter who put the sign up, is white. Wink described the sign as “a pretty good attention-getter” for his business. It had already been set on fire once prior to the incident involving Perry and Shuford, but no one was ever identified or charged.

David Rocah, the senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, told us that the hate crime charge should never have been brought against the teens. He called the statement of charges “completely incoherent” and added:

Although it has English words it’s not the English language. The implication seems to be that because the women are black and Donald Trump is white that this is a hate crime. That is self-evidently absurd and not sufficient, which is why the charges were dropped without a defense attorney even having to make an appearance.

We contacted Bozman’s office seeking further comment. He has yet to respond.

State law currently defines a hate crime as violence, harassment, or destruction of personal property “because of another’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin, or because another is homeless.” In January 2017, state delegate Meagan C. Simonaire introduced a bill that would expand that law to include police as well as property. It received an “unfavorable report” by the House Judiciary Committee on 20 February 2017.

Sources:

Anderson, Jessica.   “Baltimore Area Women Charged With Hate Crime In Burning Of Trump Sign On Eastern Shore.”
  Baltimore Sun.   20 April 2017.

Anderson, Jessica.   “Hate Crime Charges Dismissed Against Two Women Accused Of Setting Trump Sign On Fire, Police Say.”
  Baltimore Sun.   20 April 2017.

General Assembly of Maryland.   “Criminal Law – Hate Crimes – Law Enforcement Officers (Blue Lives Matter Act of 2017).”