News and Press Releases

Independence woman indicted for violating civil rights
of bi-racial man

conspirators vandalized, burned victim's home

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 31, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that an Independence, Mo., woman was indicted by a federal grand jury today for her role in a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of a bi-racial person by vandalizing and setting fire to his residence in an effort to force him to move out of the neighborhood.

Teresa Witthar, 43, of Independence, was charged in a seven-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Mo.

Today’s indictment alleges that Witthar participated in a conspiracy to threaten and intimidate Nathaniel Reed, who is bi-racial, in order to deprive him of his constitutionally-protected housing rights because of his race and color. The indictment also charges Witthar with obstructing justice and making false statements to an FBI agent.

Witthar and Reed were both residents of Highland Manor Mobile Home Park, 17311 E. 40 Hwy., Independence. Between May 17 and June 8, 2006, Witthar and two uncharged coconspirators discussed their desire to get Reed out of the neighborhood, the indictment says.

On June 5, 2006, Witthar and her coconspirators allegedly entered Reed’s mobile home and wrote at least 15 racially derogatory slurs on the walls. A few days later, the indictment says, Witthar obtained gasoline to start a fire at Reed’s mobile home. On June 8, 2006, one or more of the coconspirators allegedly set fire to Reed’s mobile home by throwing a gas can with a lit piece of cloth under the mobile home.

In addition to the conspiracy, Witthar is charged with aiding and abetting others to use force or the threat of force to injure or intimidate Reed to interfere with his fair housing rights because of his race and color. Witthar is also charged with one count of using fire to commit a felony offense by burning Reed’s mobile home to commit the offense of interfering with his right to fair housing.

The federal indictment also charges Witthar with two counts of obstructing justice. Witthar allegedly persuaded another person to provide an alibi for her whereabouts on the night of the burning of the mobile home. Witthar also allegedly persuaded another person to make false statements to the federal grand jury.

Witthar is also charged with two counts of making false statements to an FBI agent. Witthar allegedly told the FBI agent that she did not know who set the fire, then later claimed that her coconspirators were responsible but that she did not participate in burning Reed’s mobile home.

Phillips cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

This case is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney David M. Ketchmark and Trial Attorney Sheldon L. Beer of the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. It was investigated by the FBI.

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