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Press Release

Independence, Mo., Man and Woman Plead Guilty to Violating Civil Rights of Family by Torching Their Home

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, and Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, announced that an Independence, Mo., man and woman pleaded guilty in federal court today to violating the civil rights of an African-American family by setting fire to their residence.

Logan J. Smith, 25, and Victoria A. Cheek-Herrera, 34, both of Independence, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes to one count of conspiring to threaten and intimidate an Independence family from exercising their constitutional right to reside in their home because of their race or color and one count of a civil rights violation for committing a racially-motivated arson.  Smith waived his right to a grand jury indictment and pleaded guilty to a two-count information, whereas Cheek-Herrera pleaded guilty to two of three counts charged in an indictment returned by the grand jury on May 23, 2013.

By pleading guilty, Smith and Cheek-Herrera admitted that on June 26, 2008, they conspired to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate an African-American couple and their minor children in the free exercise of their constitutional rights to occupy and rent their home in Independence, because of their race and color. 

According to the plea agreements, Smith and Cheek-Herrera discussed their desire to set fire to the home of the couple, and they drew a swastika and wrote the words “White Power” on the driveway.  Smith and Cheek-Herrera asked a juvenile acquaintance for gasoline and then created a Molotov cocktail by filling a glass bottle with gasoline and inserting a rag into the bottle to serve as a wick.  Smith and Cheek-Herrera then lit the wick and threw the gasoline-filled bottle into the side of the house that the couple was renting and set the residence on fire.

Smith and Cheek-Herrera each face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for one count of conspiracy against rights and a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for one count of interference with housing rights.

This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney David M. Ketchmark and Trial Attorney Shan Patel of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Updated May 18, 2016

Hate Crimes
Press Release Number: 13-971