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A Columbus man has been charged with a federal hate crime for allegedly making anti-Semitic threats to his neighbors and breaking their window last November.
Douglas G. Schifer, 65, is accused of using force and threatening his neighbors, Tiffany and Nick Kinney of the Olde Towne East neighborhood, because of their Jewish religion, according to a March 18 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio. The alleged incident took place Nov. 7 and Schifer is being charged with interfering with his neighbors’ right to fair housing.
Schifer allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs, obscenities and other derogatory language about their religion at his neighbors. Court documents state he broke one of the Kinney’s windows and spat on one of them.
He also allegedly said he would shoot the neighbors, poison their dog and burn down a garage they were remodeling into an apartment. He allegedly made reference to gassing Jewish people and burning them in ovens.
Schifer was arrested on March 18. If convicted, he could face up to one year in prison and a possible fine of up to $100,000.
Schifer’s lawyer, Samuel H. Shamansky of Columbus, told the Columbus Jewish News March 22 he and his client take the charge “very seriously.” “He is committed to keeping his neighborhood safe and making his neighbors comfortable in their own surroundings,” Shamansky said. “He and I are going to do everything possible to bring an appropriate resolution to this matter, being extremely mindful of the needs of his neighbors.”
In addition to the criminal case against Schifer, in terms of civil litigation, the Kinneys were offered pro bono legal counsel through the Anti-Defamation League’s Ohio Antisemitic Hate Crime & Extremism Legal Assistance Project. The legal assistance project was launched as a collaboration between the ADL’s regional and national offices in July 2020 to allow victims of anti-Semitic or extremist hate or harassment in Ohio to use attorneys on a pro bono basis to seek civil litigation.
“We are gratified to see the FBI and federal prosecutors taking this alleged hate crime very seriously,” James Pasch, ADL Cleveland regional director, said in an emailed statement to the CJN. “No one should have to worry about being threatened or harassed in their home or neighborhood based on their ethnicity, religion or how they worship. In this case, we were pleased to have been able to connect the targeted couple with pro bono legal counsel through our Antisemitic Hate Crime & Extremism Legal Assistance Project. The alleged conduct here is simply unacceptable and has no place in Ohio.”
The CJN previously reported the Kinneys were celebrating the presidential election victory of Joe Biden on Nov. 7 in their backyard with two other couples when they allegedly became the victims of anti-Semitic threats and vandalism by a neighbor.
The couple, members of Congregation Agudas Achim in Bexley, previously had an amicable relationship with the neighbor, who Tiffany Kinney described to the CJN in November as a “white man” in his 60s and a “staunch Trump supporter.” They’ve been neighbors since they bought their home in October 2019, she told the CJN.
In the November interview, Tiffany Kinney described several incidents involving their neighbor that took place that evening, which are also described in a sworn affidavit filed with the criminal complaint March 17. Those incidents include the man yelling at the Kinneys, “Hitler should have gassed you” and “Jews burn, you belong in ovens.” The man made numerous similar threats, the complaint alleges, and broke a window to the couple’s living room.
When Columbus Division of Police officers responded to the scene that night, officers attempted to speak with Schifer, but no one responded to door knocks, the complaint stated. In November, Tiffany Kinney said the police shone their light in his window and could see him, but when they asked him to come out he did not respond.
The couple stayed the night with family nearby and when they returned the next day, they learned another neighbor had captured the window breaking incident on a security camera.
In a March 22 email to the CJN, Carole S. Rendon, a partner at BakerHostetler in Cleveland who is one of the lawyers representing the Kinneys, said, “The Kinneys wish to express their sincere gratitude to the law enforcement officials who investigated this matter and are pursuing this case in federal court.”
According to the complaint, on Nov. 11 a Columbus police detective interviewed Schifer by telephone. Describing the incident, Schifer said, “I blew up on them. I did,” but denied threatening to shoot them and making anti-Semitic comments. He also denied breaking the window but offered to pay for it, the complaint said.
In her affidavit, FBI task officer Julie A. Becker said the FBI and Columbus police began coordinating on the investigation last December.
According to the complaint “on or about Jan. 28, 2021, at 10:31 a.m.,” FBI members attempted to interview Schifer. He said he needed to consult his attorney. A little over an hour later at 11:49 a.m., the complaint said, Schifer called in a 311 complaint to the city of Columbus. He allegedly reported the victims (named as “neighbors 1 and 2” in the complaint) for adapting their garage without a permit.
“According to the Building and Zoning Services service request report that was generated as a result of the phone call, Schifer claimed the garage at the home of neighbors 1 and 2 had been turned into living quarters without permits,” the complaint stated. “Schifer also gave his address and phone number to contact him in case the city’s investigators needed access to his property to view neighbor 1 and neighbor 2’s garage.”
Also outlined in the complaint and as the CJN previously reported, Nov. 7 was not the first time Schifer allegedly made anti-Semitic and racist comments heard by his neighbors. In one example described in the complaint, in March 2020 Schifer allegedly said to his neighbors, “I didn’t know you were Jewish. I thought you were nice people.”
Schifer was released from custody the same day he was arrested, Shamansky said. On March 30, he waived his right to a preliminary hearing, according to a court document.
“He and I are evaluating all options and opportunities and avenues for resolution,” Shamansky said.