6 skinheads convicted in park attack

Spokane Spokesman Review/November 4, 2001

Billings -- Six men associated with a Billings skinhead group may be facing long prison terms after a federal jury convicted them Friday night of conspiring to violate the rights of minority people in a city park attack last year.

The six, all in their 20s, participated in a "park patrol," an armed sweep through Pioneer Park that forced three black and Hispanic people to flee a picnic.

The U.S. District Court jury of seven men and five women returned the verdicts at 10:15 p.m., six hours after receiving the case.

Pronounced guilty on all counts were Sean Allen, 29; Eric Dixon, 23; Jeremiah Skidmore, 24; Jason Potter, 27; Ryan Flaherty, 24; and Michael Flom, 25.

A grand jury indictment charged them with conspiring to violate the civil rights of racial and religious minorities. All but Skidmore also were charged with three counts of violating the federally protected civil rights of racial and religious minorities. Each crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull set sentencing for Feb. 8.

Mark Blumberg, a prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, played a tape recording of a 911 call received by Billings law enforcement agencies on July 29, 2000.

On the tape, a terrified Jason Clark reported that he, his girlfriend and his cousin were accosted and chased by a band of armed skinheads while they were sitting at a picnic table in Pioneer Park. Clark, who is black and Hispanic, testified last week that the attackers chased them, shouted racial insults and proclaimed that the park belonged to them.

"This isn't a trial about the First Amendment," Blumberg said. "It's not illegal to be a skinhead, and it's not illegal to hate anybody."

The government's key witnesses were Thomas Edelman and Jeremiah Johnson, both former members of the Montana Front Working Class Skinheads. Allen, Dixon and Skidmore are founding members of the group, but the three other defendants have never been members.

Johnson and Edelman played a role in planning and participating in the Pioneer Park attack, often referred to as a park patrol. Both have pleaded guilty for their involvement but have not been sentenced.

Defense attorneys attacked the credibility of Edelman and Johnson, noting that they lied to police, prosecutors and a federal grand jury.

Edelman and Johnson, who joined the skinhead group in the spring of 2000, testified that they were encouraged to attack racial minorities as a way to gain status and earn rewards within the organization. Blumberg said the conspiracy was hatched in 2000 when members decided to conduct illegal activities.

The attack in Pioneer Park, which followed a barbecue at Allen's house, was a result of that conspiracy, Blumberg said.

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