- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Black residents of the Hunters Brooke development in Charles County, Md., filed a civil rights lawsuit yesterday against five white men accused of setting the subdivision on fire last year, saying they wouldn’t be intimidated by a crime they think was fueled by racism.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on behalf of 32 residents of the Indian Head development, the lawsuit also names the security firm responsible for Hunters Brooke that employed one of the men charged with the arson. The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount.

Federal prosecutors did not file hate-crime charges against the men and ascribed various motives to each, but race has tinged the case since the fires were set Dec. 6.

Most of the residents moving into the large development of upscale homes were black. One suspect, Jeremy Daniel Parady, said in a plea agreement that the group targeted the homes because they knew many of the buyers were black. Parady also claimed racism motivated others who took part in the crime.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of residents by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and the law firm Akin Gump, says the suspects violated federal and Maryland fair-housing laws by trying to intimidate black home buyers.

“If one of their goals was to intimidate us to the point we would sit back and do nothing, they did not succeed,” Beverly Rowe said.

The fires in the homes, most of which were under construction and unoccupied, caused $10 million in damage and were described by officials as Maryland’s worst case of residential arson.

“Everybody’s dreams were dashed in an instant for nothing, for hate, for jealousy,” said Dawn Hightower, one of the plaintiffs.

Two of the five men charged with arson and conspiracy — Parady and Aaron Lee Speed — have pleaded guilty and await sentencing. The reported ringleader, Patrick S. Walsh, was convicted in September and also has yet to be sentenced. Michael M. Everhart and Roy T. McCann Jr. go on trial next year.

The lawsuit also claims negligence by Security Services of America (SSA), the company that employed Speed and had a contract to monitor Hunters Brooke. The company was responsible for Speed’s actions because he was an employee, the lawsuit claims.

Linda Auwers, senior vice president and general counsel of SSA’s parent company ABM Industries, said the company “deplores the criminal actions” that took place at Hunters Brooke.

“However, none of those actions were taken by SSA employees in the course of their employment with our company.”

The lawsuit came just a day after a possible racial slur was spray painted on a wall at the entrance to the neighborhood. The Charles County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case as a potential hate crime.

Kendall Walker saw the message when he drove his daughter to school Tuesday morning, and said it is ironic that it occurred just before the suit was filed.

“It’s a reminder of what we are going through,” he said.

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