A former Ku Klux Klan member has been ordered to pay $26,000 in damages to three cross-burning victims--a black family in College Park and two Prince George's County Jewish organizations--and is prohibited, along with others who acted with him, from committing future acts of intimidation against any blacks or Jews in the metropolitan Washington area.
The civil judgment against William Aitcheson, 27, of Ellicott City, Md., was ordered by U.S. District Judge Frank Kaufman last week. It follows an earlier criminal sentence in Prince George's District Court for the same series of cross burnings, which occurred between 1976 and 1977. Under the criminal charge, Aitcheson served 90 days in prison. Aitcheson, an avowed Klan member at the time of the cross burnings, is believed to have moved to a different state and has claimed to have left the Klan. Neither he nor his attorney could be reached for comment yesterday.
The court awarded $23,000 to the College Park family and $1,500 each to the University of Maryland's B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation and the Beth Torah Congregation in Hyattsville. The lawsuit was initiated by the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law and the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association.
The judge's ruling was hailed by the victims' lawyer, Steve Fennell, of Steptoe and Johnson, a Washington firm that took the case without a fee. The fact that the court awarded the full damages sought "is a sign to Ku Klux Klan members and others of like mind that their messages of racism will not be tolerated by the courts or the community," Fennell said.
Several other desecrations of religious buildings have occurred throughout the metropolitan Washington area in recent months. To combat such actions in the District of Columbia, D.C. City Council member Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large) introduced legislation yesterday to double penalties for persons convicted of defiling or desecrating public or private property.
The proposed bill would increase the maximum fine levied against vandals who destroy public or private property from $100 to $1,000 and would raise the jail term from a maximum of six months to one year.
Moore, a Baptist minister, revealed yesterday that vandals had spray-painted three slogans on his church and the Christian Science Church at 16th Street and Spring Road NW and the Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah Congregation at 7712 16th St. on April 3. Only the desecration of Moore's church, a former synagogue, had been previously reported. The slogans read, "Down with Israel," "Long Live Khomeini," and "Death to Zionism."
"I take this to be a serious incident because it indicates a trend that should be noted and stopped," Moore said.