Coatesville man who claimed white supremacist ties charged in graffiti case

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A 24-year-old Coatesville man was in custody Thursday, accused of spray-painting racist and anti-Semitic graffiti on several locations in the Chester County city earlier this week.

George Rissell, who police said claimed having past connections to white supremacy groups, was arrested Wednesday night. He faces charge of ethnic intimidation and criminal mischief, according to Coatesville Police. They had said Wednesday they were not aware of any hate groups active in the area.

Early Tuesday morning, swastikas and racist slurs — including the N-word — were left on a Valley Mart convenience store, on a white Mercedes-Benz, and on a garage door in Coatesville’s West End.

Authorities found the vandalism crossed Coatesville city lines and continued into Valley Township, where the same kind of graffiti was left on street signs and a roadway, Coatesville Police Cpl. Shawn Dowds said Wednesday.

“It is very shocking,” Dowds said. “That’s never happened here before.”

Camera icon Alphonso Newsuan

Racist and anti-Semitic vandalism that police say was left on a car and storefront in Coatesville early Tuesday.

Local experts at the Anti-Defamation League told Coatesville police that by the looks of the graffiti, the person was “educated” in the imagery, Dowds said.

On the storefront of the Valley Mart, at Strode Avenue and Valley Road, there was a swastika, as well as white-nationalist codes, 14:88 and 23:16. Similar graffiti was left on the car, parked on South Church Street, and on a garage on the 800 block of Madison Avenue, Dowds said.

Dowds said the incident may have been a reaction to the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which included chants of “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi slogan “blood and soil.”

“It may be just a copycat,” Dowds said. “But you have to be concerned,” especially in a community with a large black population. The population of Coatesville is more than 47 percent African American, according to 2016 census data.

Janine Humphrey identified herself on Facebook as the woman who owned the car that was vandalized.

Humphrey told Philadelphia Weekly that two weeks ago she and her family had moved from Morgantown, Berks County, to Coatesville in part for its more diverse population. In Morgantown, she said, her children were often the only people of color in their school classes.

On Tuesday, Humphrey said she came home from a graveyard shift at the VA hospital when she found her car vandalized.

“I got really emotional, and my children were all saying, ‘Mommy, Mommy, what’s wrong?’ ” Humphrey said. “Then I thought, it’s ridiculous that this happens in this day and age.”

Humphrey said she believes the incident was a reaction to the Charlottesville rally and President Trump’s response.

“The president isn’t condoning it, but he’s not doing anything to address it,” she said. “You don’t allow things to go on and then when something happens say, ‘I can’t believe it happened.’ He has an obligation to speak up.”

The incident was the second report of graffiti in the Philadelphia suburbs in the last week.

In Bucks County, authorities said Herbert Hoover Elementary School was vandalized the night of Aug. 18. Racist graffiti was left at the Langhorne school, according to the Peace Center, a local nonprofit focused on, among other things, conflict resolution and racial equity.

In Coatesville, residents have expressed concern, Dowds said, mostly on Facebook and other social-media platforms. The comments include postings by people with Coatesville ties.

“To say this infuriates me is an understatement!” posted Anastasia Carter, whose town of residence was not clear.

“I hope that whoever did this, in a place I’m proud to call home & always will be, is swiftly brought to justice,” Coatesville native Shelley Hoffman wrote. “There’s no place for that here or anywhere.”

Local representatives also took to social media to post statements against hatred and bigotry.

“It breaks my heart that we still have to fight for equality and against hatred,” State Rep. Harry Lewis Jr. (R., Chester) said. “The hate of those who cannot respect their neighbors has no place in our community. Racial slurs won’t change us, and Nazi symbols won’t scare us.”

“Let me be perfectly clear: There is absolutely no room for this kind of hate in our communities,” State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester) said. “We must continue to come together and renounce this for what it is – unacceptable garbage.”

Rissell was being held at Chester County Prison Thursday unable to post $150,000 bail. His preliminary hearing is set for Monday.

Rissell had been arrested three previous times in Chester County.

Last year, in July 2016, he was arraigned on a bevy of charges including aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and possessing an instrument of a crime. He pleaded guilty to to simple assault and possessing a weapon. He was sentenced to a minimum of a year in jail followed by three years probation.

Back in November 2010, he faced similar charges, eventually pleading guilty to one count of aggravated assault. He was sentenced to a minimum of two years in jail.

A month earlier, in October 2010, Rissell was also charged with assault, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, and terroristic threats  He pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and aggravated assault, and was sentenced to a minimum of one year in jail followed by probation.

It was not immediately clear how long Rissell spent in jail on any of these charges.

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