Montebello man, 18, wearing KKK, Nazi shirt charged with attacking Hispanic teen

The Journal, Lower Hudson NY/September 11, 2009

Airmont - An 18-year-old Montebello man wearing a shirt with racist insignias has been charged with a hate crime for the second time since April involving an attack on a Hispanic male, authorities said yesterday.

Ramapo police accused Michael Conklin of shooting a 17-year-old three times with a BB gun at 10:45 p.m. Monday on Cragmere Road.

Conklin's shirt provided evidence to raise the charge up a notch to a felony second-degree assault as a hate crime.

He wore a "shirt with a Ku Klux Klan insignia on the back and a swastika on the arm," Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said yesterday.

Conklin is accused of shooting the Hispanic teenager twice in the left forearm and once in the buttocks, Ramapo Detective Sgt. John Lynch said. The teen's wounds were not serious.

"Based on the evidence we collected during the investigation, we are confident that the victim was intentionally shot because he was Hispanic," Lynch said. "Ramapo detectives have classified this as a hate crime related to the national origin of the victim."

Conklin and the wounded teenager knew one another, Lynch said.

Conklin now faces one count each of second-degree assault and second-degree assault as a hate crime.

Zugibe said he found it disturbing that Conklin was arrested while out on bail for a previous hate crime charge.

"This certainly causes considerable concern that there's a followup incident while the first one is pending," Zugibe said. "It's very telling."

In April, Conklin and four other young men were arrested on a felony assault charge as a hate crime.

The arrests came several days after they were accused of shouting "white power" while beating up a Hispanic male hanging out with them and other people in woods near the municipal water tower in Sloatsburg in late March.

Conklin, Benjamin Knowles and Michael Lorelli, both 17 and of Suffern, Michael Polloni, 17, of Sloatsburg and Andrew Statham, 18, of Suffern were charged by Ramapo police with one count each of second-degree assault as a hate crime.

Conklin and several of the others were released on $1,000 bail. Most of the suspects and the victim were Suffern High School students at the time.

The charges in that case are pending and should be resolved within a week, Zugibe said.

Such racial incidents are not only unacceptable but also they reflect the growing intolerance for Hispanics due to the anti-illegal immigration rhetoric across the country, activists said.

Juan Pablo Ramirez of the Jornaleros Project said he didn't believe it was a coincidence that the attacks and the people involved were in the western Ramapo area.

He noted the Suffern police and the government have gotten involved in immigration enforcement with the federal government.

He said singling out Hispanics for immigration checks - whether they are illegally or legally in the country - sends a negative stereotype that young people pick up on.

"Young people look to people in authority and this divisive talk and policies bring a backlash against immigrants," Ramirez said.

Suffern officials have said they joined the program in order to focus on illegal immigrants who are serious criminal offenders. They say the program would be a tool to help keep the village's crime level low.

Ramirez said the hate symbols raised more concern.

"When people start wearing a KKK shirt and swastika, this shows something deeper," he said. "I hope it's just him and not a group of people."

He said these incidents should bring people together to discuss issues of accepting people regardless of race, creed or religion.

Racial incidents such as these cannot be tolerated, said Renold Julien, the leader of the Haitian advocacy group Konbit Neg Lakay and the Rockland Immigration Coalition.

"We are against this behavior and such violence," Julien said. "I don't know kids who wear KKK on shirts. This one youngster needs help. I don't know if sending him to jail would be fair. I am hoping local agencies that work with young people will get involved."

Police had been looking for Conklin on a misdemeanor charge of second-degree criminal trespass involving an incident that occurred Aug. 11 at a home on Laura Drive in Airmont, Lynch said.

Conklin was arraigned on the assault counts and the trespass charge by Suffern Justice Matthew Byrne. He was being held in the county jail on $75,000 bail pending a court hearing and grand jury review.

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