WASHINGTON – Three individuals were arrested this morning in relation to a church arson on Nov. 5, 2008, in Springfield, Mass.
Benjamin Haskell, 22, Michael Jacques, 24, and Thomas Gleason, 21, all of Springfield, Mass., were arrested early this morning on a civil rights violation, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker; U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan; Glenn N. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - Boston Field Division; Warren T. Bamford, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Office; Colonel Mark Delaney, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police; William Bennett, Hampden County District Attorney; and Commissioner William J. Fitchet of the Springfield Police Department.
"Today's arrests demonstrate the Department of Justice's unwavering commitment to enforcing the nation's civil rights laws," Becker said. "Racial violence tears at the fabric of our great nation and will not be tolerated."
In documents unsealed today, the government alleged that in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, Haskel, Jacques and Gleason engaged in a conspiracy to burn and succeeded at burning the Macedonia Church of God in Christ’s building, a newly constructed building where religious services were to be held for a predominantly African American congregation. The building was 75 percent completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed the entire structure, leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact. Investigators determined the fire to be incendiary in nature and caused by an unknown quantity of gasoline applied to the exterior and interior of the building.
Haskel, Jacques and Gleason have been arrested and charged in a complaint with conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate the parishioners of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in the free exercise or enjoyment of their rights as secured in the Constitution and laws of the United States.
"We will not tolerate those who victimize others," said U.S. Attorney Sullivan. "Racism has devastating effects on individuals, and stifles the quality of life in the community. I am angered and saddened that the neighborhood has endured such cruel acts by those living in the same community."
"This crime has caused a great deal of physical and emotional harm. It is a crime against our entire community. All of us have been injured. All of us are hurt, but we are also resolved to hold those responsible accountable," said District Attorney Bennett.
If convicted, Haskell, Jacques and Gleason could face a sentence of up to10 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
The case is being investigated by the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Massachusetts State Police; Hampden County District Attorney’s Office and the Springfield Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Erin Aslan, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul Smyth and Kevin O’Regan of Sullivan’s Springfield Branch.
The details contained in the complaint are allegations. The defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.