Corey Gardens issues escalate to hate crime status
Turning into Corey Gardens feels like a time warp…a step backwards to Nazi Germany or the Deep South in the ‘50s.
It is nauseating, deeply sad and inspires an anger most don’t realize they have in them.
Swastikas, anti-Semitic racial slurs, and foul language have been spray painted all over the exterior of two of the residences on Amberwood Drive. A nonsensical plywood sign has been screwed above the entrance to one that reads CGHOA – presumably Corey Gardens Home Owners Association.
Corey Gardens is quiet on this bright sunny Labor Day Monday. Few are out and about.
One gentleman, who has stepped outside his home for a smoke, declines to talk about the desecration a few doors down.
“I am new here,” he says. “I don’t know anyone and I don’t want to get in the middle of this.”
But, he does offer, “This is terrible, just terrible…why can’t people live and let live?”
Sara Johnson and Michael Patterson live on one side of the target of the vitriolic vandalism.
“I don’t know who did this,” says Patterson, “but everyone here is nervous and on edge. Every time you hear a door close you get up and go look, to see who it is.”
Patterson says he is sure he was sound asleep in his living room chair when the vandalism happened but he heard nothing.
Johnson says, a neighbor came home from work around 1:30 a.m. and saw nothing. But when she went outside at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, the damage had been done.
“There was a letter that went around,” they say, referring to an August 16 missive that was full of racial and ethnic slurs against blacks and Jews, “and probably whoever wrote that did this.”
They think this is all from one owner in the complex. However, they also speculate that since the HOA is “hiding from all this,” it is possible that it may be behind it all.
Patterson notes that Corey Gardens has historically been pretty much a community of older, retired folks…“a mature community.”
“What’s going on now is that people are buying units as income properties and renting them out so the demographic is changing,” he says. “I think some of the old heads don’t like it. Maybe this is being done by kids of the ‘originals’…I don’t really know.”
Patterson says he somewhat shares the sentiment against buying up a bunch of units and renting them out without the landlord/owner living here.
However, he says, “Almost everyone in this community is quiet, minds their own business and watches out for each other.”
The community is mixed culturally and racially. The pool area, that was the catalyst for this escalating behavior, is a melting pot of residents on this hot Labor Day.
Johnson chimes in saying, “the HOA is telling everyone to keep their mouths shut…’don’t talk’ that’s what Sarah said to me,” she says.
Sarah, whose last name she doesn’t know, is an HOA board member, Johnson says.
Johnson is worried. “Where will it stop? I come and go at all hours and now I have to worry that some idiot…what level will this get to?”
“The police need to get a cap on this,” adds Patterson, “before it escalates to something they [perpetrators] can’t walk away from.”
Johnson and Patterson are contractors, they say. She is up at 4 a.m. every morning. “I dance at night so sometimes I don’t get home until 1, 2, or 3 a.m. This really pisses me off.
“I mean you’re talking just feet from my home.”
“One woman [in the neighborhood] called them [perpetrators] a coward,” Johnson continued. “This is two-year-old behavior, stupid, it makes me angry, there’s no sense in this…these people [the targets] have done nothing to nobody!”
Jerry Myrick, the neighbor on the other side of the target house, has lived in Corey Gardens for 10 years.
“I saw this Saturday morning,” he says, “they sprayed my house too.” Myrick’s side wall of his house has “Felony trash” spray painted on it with an arrow to the target house.
“The HOA better take care of it,” he says, in no uncertain terms. He says he hasn’t spoken with them about it yet but that the HOA is responsible for the lawns, roofs, and exteriors of the properties.
“I don’t like it,” he says, of the vandalism, slurs and escalating targeting of his neighbors. “It bothers me. They have been here about a year and a half and they are good neighbors.”
“I wish they would find out who did this, it is very disturbing.”
A woman who declined her name but admitted she was the treasurer for the HOA, said only, “We don’t want this in the paper.” She noted that other board members were not available to speak about the issue.
Nancy and Bradford Carey answer their door with a welcoming smile. Married 23 years, theirs is a heart warming story with an eerie irony.
It all started, they say, when Bradford, after listening to folks poolside talk about the fact that the pool was not open on Mondays, wrote a letter to the HOA asking that it consider opening the pool on Mondays and volunteering to do the job of the pool man who doesn’t work on Mondays.
Within a few days, the Careys received an anonymous letter crumpled and put in their front bushes that said it was because the pool was closed for cleaning on Mondays. The unpleasant three-page letter cited other concerns expressed by residents as “bull.” It was from “someone who has lived here longer than any of you.”
Carey says he had spoken with the pool man who said there was no good reason not to have the pool open, that he [the pool man] isn’t even there on Mondays and cleans the pool on Sundays.
Carey posted a letter to the community that questioned the “truths” being told to the community by the HOA board. He put his name and unit number in it and urged everyone to turn out for the next board meeting to challenge the board on its “lies.”
On August 11 and again on August 13 the Carey’s door locks were Super Glued. They had to replace them each time.
Then, on August 16, they received three or four copies – strewn on their bushes and door – of a missive full of anti-black and anti-Semitic slurs.
And then, sometime Saturday morning, August 31, someone spray painted their home – windows, front and back exterior walls (inside their screened porch) and their storage shed in the back yard. And the locks were once again Super Glued.
Bradford says, “the Summerville Police Department has been amazing, just amazing, they have practically slept outside my house since this happened.”
Their sense of humor hasn’t been completely destroyed though. In reference to the spray paint on the neighbor’s house, Nancy says, “at least they were considerate [of the neighbor] enough to put an arrow to their target. Bradford shows his humor with a somewhat bitter commentary via a new sign he has just attached over his portico: “Art” provided by an ignorant friend of CGHOA.
“But it’s been a nightmare,” says Bradford.
“What’s next?” asks Nancy.
It is a good question and the reason the community is on edge. At the rate this is escalating, the question of what’s next is on everyone’s mind.
This weekend’s vandalism calls Bradford a Jew and a felon.
“I am both,” says Bradford, candidly.
The incredibly sad irony here is that Bradford’s mother escaped Nazi Germany when she was three. Determined that her children would never know the hatred she had known simply for being Jewish, she married an Irishman so her children wouldn’t even look Jewish. “She didn’t want the hate to ruin another generation,” he explains. “She was bound and determined not to have the stigma affect her kids.”
Bradford says he was not brought up in the Jewish religion and doesn’t practice it although he does put a small menorah in his window during Chanukah. “I sometimes joke I am the only Jew in Summerville,” he says.
“Yes, I am a felon,” he says. The story is not so unusual. “Back when I was 25, I made a stupid decision. I was in the middle of a divorce and my wife left and wouldn’t let me see my daughter. I couldn’t handle it. We kept going to court regarding custody and each time she wouldn’t show up and it would get postponed another few months. This went on for a few years and in the meantime I didn’t get to see her [daughter] or speak with her. I was beside myself, suffering from depression.”
Clearly reluctant to talk about something so personal, he nevertheless pushes on. “I was working for an armored car company. One day, I realized, I couldn’t do this anymore [not see his daughter] so I took the last bag of cash from the truck, hopped in my car and left. The next day I went to Logan Airport and took the first flight out to Florida. It was going to Tampa/St. Pete. I didn’t try to hide, I was planning on drinking enough to get up the courage to kill myself.”
Then he met Nancy and, he says, she literally saved his life. She helped me get into counseling and even went with me. We got to be good friends and she helped me straighten out my life. There was one thing left to straighten out, he says, so he called the police and turned himself in. “I paid back all the money I had taken and was open and honest with the cops. Because of this, the judge sentenced me to 18 months – it was a possible 20-year federal sentence – and I served 15 months with good behavior. Prior to going to prison, Nancy and I married so she could visit me in Danbury.”
Nancy moved in with Bradford’s parents in Chester, NH while he was in prison.
When he got out they moved to South Carolina.
In the last threatening letter they received, the threat was “to find some dirt on you.”
“Someone had to actually pay to get this information,” they marvel. The police tell us they used a Visa credit card on an online site where you can buy criminal histories.”
Bradford has flown a straight line ever since he was 25, with the love and support of both Nancy and his daughter who comes every Sunday to have lunch with her dad.
“My daughter is the most wonderful person,” says Bradford. “I am so proud of her, she is beautiful. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from college and she now works full time at Palmetto Behavioral Center and is a full-time student at MUSC. She wants to go to Johns Hopkins and become a doctor.”
The Careys have an “adopted” son as well. As a young boy in New Hampshire, they took him under their wing when they saw he was an abused child. When he was grown, Bradford taught him his business, the same way Bradford’s dad had taught him.
When they moved south, they convinced their “son” to follow. The young man lives in Corey Woods, around the corner.
When the young man turned 23, Bradford and Nancy gave him their business, lock, stock and barrel, as a birthday gift. Bradford now works for his “son.”
Nancy is working on her Work Keys. In their spare time, the Careys work on the annual Cell Phones for Soldiers Program. This program collects old cell phones, has them reconditioned and then gives them to soldiers in the Middle East so they can keep in touch with their families.
“My brother was a Marine,” Bradford explains with tears running down his cheeks. “He was a diabetic and was going blind. He also had testicular cancer. One day he took all his chemo meds. He couldn’t stand the thought of living blind.”
“I do this in honor of him.”
There is an even deeper irony in all of this. While spray painting “felon” all over the Carey’s home, the individual(s) doing the spray painting have just, themselves, graduated to felon status.
While the letter full of ethnic and racial slurs was protected by the First Amendment, the vandalism and destruction of property – normally a misdemeanor – was elevated to a felony. As soon as the spray painter used the word Jewish, and sprayed swastikas the vandalism became a hate crime. And a hate crime is a felony.