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Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Skaneateles head coach Joe Sindoni talks to quarterback Patrick Hackler against Cleveland Hill in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C semifinal game at Union-Endicott High School.

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Hate crime? Diversity groups question handling of Owasco menacing case

Several representatives of organizations that promote social justice and diversity have voiced concern with the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office following an incident in the town of Owasco. 

The incident occurred on Sunday, Nov. 5, when sheriff's deputies said an Owasco man harassed a family over a "landlord-tenant dispute" on North Road

According to a press release, at around 10:50 p.m., deputies responded to the home of Jeffrey Richardson and Lisa Bachman after two males parked a tractor in their driveway and posted a large sign in their front yard. The sign — a cut-out of a black bear — said "Get Out." 

After pounding the sign into the ground, deputies said an adult male fired a shotgun in the air before leaving in a vehicle. Then, after a short pursuit, the vehicle crashed in a ditch on Town Hall Road. 

Eric Simmons, 50, of Baptist Corners Road, was arrested and ultimately charged with seven counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a class D felony, for illegally possessing several handguns. He was also charged with second-degree menacing with a weapon, second-degree obstructing governmental administration and endangering the welfare of a child, all class A misdemeanors. 

Guest column: Owasco menacing case is deeply troubling

We write to you today as representatives of the Harriet Tubman Center for Justice and Peace, the Harriet Tubman Boosters and Celebrate! Diverse Auburn. Our organizations exist in part to challenge intentional and incipient injustice due to race or other social characteristics, to stand for inclusion, and to celebrate diversity in all of its forms in and around Cayuga County.

The sheriff's office said Simmons is a friend of the landlord who had the dispute with the North Road tenants. The second male was a 14-year-old boy who has been identified as Simmons' son.

After the incident, Richardson posted about it on Facebook. "All because I'm black living in a white neighborhood is what it comes down to," he wrote.

Richardson, who is black, later told The Citizen he viewed it as a hate crime. 

The sheriff's office said there was no indication that race was a factor in the case. But now, several local organizations are asking the sheriff's office to reconsider that determination.

In a letter sent to The Citizen last week, representatives from the Harriet Tubman Center for Justice and Peace, Harriet Tubman Boosters and Celebrate! Diverse Auburn asked the sheriff's office to investigate the possibility that a hate crime had been committed. 

"We are deeply concerned about how this incident and the way it is handled by our law enforcement and justice departments reflect on our community," the letter said. "It is our hope that the law enforcement and judicial systems understand the severity of this matter and prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law." 

In response, Sheriff David Gould said that is just what his office has done. 

Under New York State Penal Law, a person commits a hate crime when he or she commits a specified offense and either intentionally selects the victim or intentionally commits a crime "in whole or substantial part" based on race, color or other bias. 

Gould and Sgt. Frederick Cornelius said the sheriff's office investigated the incident as a possible hate crime, but could not prove that the motivation behind the offense was largely based on race. 

"There is nothing to determine that this is a bias-related crime or a hate crime according to New York State Penal Law," Gould said in a phone interview Friday. "If we determined that was something fitting the state statutes, we certainly would have charged it, but at this time we have no evidence that it is a hate crime related incident." 

"If we were able to prove that the crime was committed in whole or substantial part, not just some random thought ... then we would be able to charge the menacing as a hate crime," Cornelius added, noting that menacing as a hate crime would have raised the charge from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony. 

At this time, the sheriff's office said the incident resulted over a rent payment, as Simmons is a friend of Richardson's landlord. However, Gould stressed that his office would continue to investigate the incident if new information became available. 

"I am in constant communication with the NAACP and (Auburn) Human Rights Commission and we will certainly listen to anything they have to say," Gould said. "We have a great relationship with the minority community and we expect to continue that." 

The diversity groups also encouraged officials to consult with the New York State Police Hate Crimes Unit as well as colleagues in Ithaca and Oswego where recent incidents warranted hate crime investigations. 

Gould said he would reach out to the state police unit for assistance if his office determined it was a hate crime. 

"If we needed their expertise and this rose to a hate crime we would certainly reach out to them for help," he said. 

The Citizen reached out to Richardson and NAACP President Eli Hernandez Friday, but neither could be reached for comment. 

Charley Hannagan, Special to The Citizen 

Mike Simms of EWASTE+ prepares a pallet of electronics to be loaded on a truck. The electronics were collected during the America Recycles Day Electronics Event on Saturday at the Auburn landfill.

Charley Hannagan, Special to The Citizen 

Cars wait to be unloaded at the Auburn landfill Saturday morning.


Jeffrey Richardson said two men posted this sign on his front lawn on North Road in Owasco Sunday night. 

Women's March returning in 2018

A group born out of the first Women's March in Seneca Falls is planning another that will be held on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump's inauguration.

The newly formed per-SISTERS for Women's Equality will hold a rally at 10 a.m. Jan. 20, 2018 at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.

While the rally is similar in terms of style, the substance has changed. For the first Women's March, many who participated had concerns about what Trump would do as president. Now that they have seen him lead the country for the last 10 months, organizers believe their fears have been confirmed.

"We have seen the rollback of immigration laws. We have seen the rollback of (environmental) policies," said Leah Ntuala, a member of the per-SISTERS. "We've seen continued violence against women, the stripping of reproductive health rights. We have seen systemic racism in action with the calling out of some and the not naming of others."

Former Auburn Mayor Melina Carnicelli added, "We have now actually seen concrete evidence of rollbacks and injustices in many of those areas on which we're focused."

The first march in Seneca Falls, which was held one day after Trump's inauguration, was one of nearly 700 rallies held throughout the world. An estimated 4.9 million people participated in the events, according to the Women's March website.

The national Women's March organization was founded with the goal of harnessing "the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative change," according to its website. The main march in Washington drew hundreds of thousands of people, including a group from Auburn.

A larger than expected crowd showed up in Seneca Falls. When they first started planning for the 2017 march in the birthplace of women's rights, organizers said they thought it might draw 300 or 400 people. When they filled out a permit application for the Women's Rights National Historical Park, they were told that space had a larger capacity. They planned for 800 people.

And then the RSVPs began to stream in and the crowd estimate grew. A few days before the march, the group believed that 6,000 people would show up in Seneca Falls.

On Saturday, Jan. 21, an estimated 10,000 people attended the march. Traffic was backed up on the Thruway. There were visitors from other states, including California and Connecticut, and even other countries.

Since the marches in January, women's groups have persisted. Nationally, the Women's March organization held The Women's Convention in Detroit. The event, which was held in October, featured several speakers, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

But a second Women's March in Washington doesn't appear to be in the works. Those behind the Seneca Falls march hope they can motivate others to once again march in Washington and other locations across the world.

"To be persisters is much more apt about who we are and what we're about," Carnicelli said. "We are about equality and justice, period, for women in this country. And that is what our focus is and what we're leading on. And frankly, we were more motivated now than ever to persist because we've had concrete evidence of injustice."

Sandy Shutter, another member of per-SISTERS who is helping plan the rally, interjected.

"And we're not going to give up," she said. ​