Couple gets bullets in the mail after neighbour painted swastika on their driveway
By Andrea Salcedo
In June, Connie and Michella Pineda walked out their front door in Louisville to find a bright orange swastika and a racist message spray painted on their driveway. When the couple, who are Latina and Filipina, respectively, went inside to check a security camera, they realized they knew the attacker, they later told police.
It was their neighbour.
In July, the neighbour, Suzanne R. Craft, 52, was charged with criminal mischief and later sentenced to seven days of jail and house arrest for violating a no-contact order with the couple, as reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
But now, months later, the family says they suspect Craft is still targeting them and their five children with racist harassment.
Their security cameras, their attorney told The Washington Post, have once again recorded Craft returning to their property in recent weeks to pour cat litter in their fountain and to drop what appeared to be a bag of threatening letters on their lawn.
"They live in fear," said attorney Vanessa Cantley. "They have five children and three of them are old enough to know exactly what's happening. They won't go out and play in the yard. They won't go out to walk the neighbourhood. They are basically prisoners in their own home. The whole family sleeps in the living room where there are no windows because they just don't know what this woman is capable of."
Craft and her attorney could not be reached by The Post as of early Friday morning. The Pinedas have also sued Craft and their neighbourhood association, alleging that she committed hate crimes against the family and that the association failed to stop her.
The Pineda family relocated to the Louisville neighbourhood in April 2019 from the Philippines, where Michella was deployed with the Marines until her retirement, Cantley said.
But their peace and quiet in the suburban community lasted only about three months, according to the lawsuit. In July 2019, the Pinedas began finding patches of dead grass, as well as lines and other markings burned into their lawn, which appeared to be caused by a chemical agent, the lawsuit alleges.
The situation escalated the next month when one of their children came running into the house to report that Craft's 12-year-old daughter had called her and her siblings a racial slur, according to Cantley. The neighbour then began repeatedly confronting the Pinedas outside their home, the lawsuit alleges, attacking the family with racial slurs.
In March, the couple said that Craft threatened to run one of the Pinedas' children over with her car as the child rode her bicycle on the street.
Then, in June, the Pinedas found the n-word and the message, "Go Away," painted on their driveway. The lawn was also damaged by the spray paint, the lawsuit states. That's when they decided to turn on their security cameras.
Days later, they allege, the cameras recorded Craft pouring chemicals on their lawn before spray-painting a swastika and a racist slur on their driveway. The couple posted a grainy black-and-white video of the incident to Facebook. It shows a woman wearing a hat and holding what appears to be a bottle on her left hand swiftly approaching the Pinedas' driveway.
"There she is in the flipping grass over there dumping the damn bleach water again," one of the Pinedas can be heard narrating in the back of the video. Then, about 47 seconds into the video, the woman returns to the driveway and spray-paints a message with the n-word and a swastika. Photos posted to the Pinedas' Facebook account show the racist graffiti and what appears to be bleach stains on their grass.
"Took us hours to pressure wash this off our driveway only to have it vandalized AGAIN on the 16th of this month [by] this same neighbour," the Pinedas captioned the June 19 post.
Two days later, she was recorded again pouring chemicals on their lawn in the middle of the night and egging their home, the lawsuit states. Finally, in late June, the lawsuit says, Craft was recorded one more time drawing a swastika, pouring chemicals on their lawn and writing a racial slur.
The police later found Craft in possession of the materials used to vandalize the Pinedas' property, according to the lawsuit. At a July arraignment, Craft received a no-contact order following her initial charges. She was found guilty in late August of being in contempt with the court, which Cantley said was because she broke the no-contact order, the Courier-Journal reported. She was sentenced to seven days in jail and seven days on house arrest for the contempt charges, the local paper reported. Cantley told The Post she is unaware if Craft served any jail time.
She is due back in court next month for a hearing related to the ongoing criminal case, the paper reported. She is also scheduled to appear at a hearing next week to determine whether she violated the no-contact order again because of the new videos recorded by the Pinedas, Cantley told The Post.
But that hasn't stopped Craft from targeting the family, their attorney says.
On Wednesday, the couple took to Facebook to denounce the "almost daily" death threats they have received in the last two weeks. One note containing cutout magazine letters, which the couple has said they found on their yard, reads: "Last Chance." Another one reads, "Die Stupid B* Move Out." The couple also posted a picture of two bullets, which they say have recently been left in the mail with a threatening note that reads, "Get out."
The Pinedas' neighbours have rallied around them. In mid-July, as a sign of solidarity, a group of neighbours used chalk to write "Lake Forest Stands With You" in front of their home, WAVE 3 News reported.
Still, the Pinedas have considered moving out. But doing so would be letting their neighbour's racist beliefs win, Cantley said.
"They struggle every day with do we stay and fight? Or do we leave?" Cantley said. "If they leave they feel like Ms. Craft wins ... They shouldn't have to leave. It's their property. It's their home."