Violence and vandalism rock small Tennessee community

Desperate and unsure where to turn, a gay man living just outside McMinnville, Tenn., is pleading for help to stop a series of vicious, hate-filled attacks.

It’s now been more than a year since the first words of hate were scrawled across Neal Anthony’s historic family home in rural Warren County. Since then, Anthony said he has been the victim of at least nine attacks, all because he’s gay.

The most recent attack occurred in the early hours of May 23 when vandals damaged Anthony's property. After cutting cables to all the security cameras Anthony had installed to protect against this very type of attack, the vandals broke out security lights, cut phone lines and power to the house and spray painted hate-filled messages on the side of his home.

Now, Anthony wonders why state and local law enforcement can't put a stop to the crimes.

“I need help up here, my nerves are shot,” Anthony said. “I just don't know what to do.”

SUB HEAD: Are law enforcement officials on the case?

Members of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) are also asking questions.

“We hope the incidents will be defined and pursued as hate crimes and that those responsible will be apprehended so that Neal's life can go back to normal,” said TEP President Christopher Sanders.

Anthony’s partner, Michael, said he spoke with Warren County Sheriff Jackie Matheny, who told him that he too had been the target of vandals. That, Anthony said, made him feel that the Sheriff wasn’t taking the case seriously.

Anthony, whose mother Dorothy passed away in December 2007, was horrified to see the message “Dorthy N Hell” scrawled out in green paint on the side of his house.

“Fag die” and “We Will Kill” were messages spray painted in white paint on the side of his red barn in September 2007.

“I’m sitting up here like a sitting duck and law enforcement just doesn’t seem to care,” Anthony said.

Just as he’d done many times before, Anthony notified the Warren County Sheriff’s office on Friday, May 23, about the hate crime. Anthony said two investigators came to his house, looked around, told him they took some finger prints and then left.

His partner notified the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), but Anthony said he had little faith that much would be done to catch the criminals.

“They’ve not done much up till now,” he said. “This is a small rural area. You know that people know who’s doing this. I think if they wanted to find out who was doing this and put a stop to it, they could.”

In May 2007, Christine Sun, GLBT attorney for the ACLU of Tennessee, sent a letter to Warren County District Attorney Lisa Zavogiannis requesting that her office ask for assistance from the TBI and that the crimes also be reported to the FBI.

That request for assistance took more than four months to make its way from Zavogiannis’s office to the TBI.

Kristin Helm, a public information officer with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), said that the TBI did receive a request to open a case file on the incident(s).

“We were requested by the DA to open a case in August of 2007,” Helm said. “However, we have not yet been requested to investigate Friday's (May 23, 2008) alleged incident.”

Helm said that the case file has been turned over to DA Zavogiannis.

It should be noted that TBI Director Mark Gwyn has past connections to Warren County – he began his law enforcement career there as a McMinnville police officer in 1985. He stayed there for three years before he was hired as a TBI Special Agent.  Sheriff Matheny also started his law enforcement career with the McMinnville Police Department before he was first elected to his post in 1994. He is now serving his third term as Sheriff.

Matheny has also served as interim minister in at least two churches in Warren County - Morrison First Baptist Church, in Morrison, Tenn. and Cornerstone Baptist Church in McMinnville.

If law enforcement officials – the TBI, District Attorney and Sheriff – are not providing Anthony with an active investigation and trying to protect him, one legal expert says that could put them at risk for not providing the same level of protection that they would provide any citizen.

“The bigger question at this point is whether the police are actively investigating the crimes against him and actively trying to provide protection to him,” said Nashville attorney Abby Rubenfeld. “Every citizen, regardless of sexual orientation, is entitled to expect that he or she will be free of such attacks and that the police will be responsive to their pleas for help when such attacks occur.”   

An arrest and prosecution has been made in at least one of the incidents - Zavogiannis’s office prosecuted three teenagers who admitted to a March 2007 incident of shooting more than 80 paintballs at Anthony’s home. The Juvenile Court Judge who heard the case placed the boys on probation, ordered them to write an apology and mow yards for five weekends.

Tennessee state law expressly provides for enhanced penalties for crimes against a person or property that are motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s belief or perception regarding the race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry or gender of the victim (TN STAT. § 40-35-114). 

But that provision in the law is only applicable after the person is convicted of a crime.

“If they do not know who the perpetrator is, they cannot get any conviction and cannot apply the enhancement,” said Rubenfeld. “If they arrest someone for these crimes, then they should ask for the enhancement, but that is a discretionary decision by the prosecutor.”

Pullout box

You can help.

“Neal is in the best position to say what the community can do for him,” Sanders said. “A small but significant thing would be to write letters of support for Neal to the Southern Standard, the local paper in Warren County.  That will put increased pressure on local law enforcement and also create the kind of dialogue that helps undo hate. But what we can all do is report hate crimes when they occur and put pressure on Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard Act.”

 “I would urge O&AN readers to contact the state legislators in Warren County and ask them to make sure that TBI is taking this situation seriously,” said Sun. “And to contact Senator’s Corker and Alexander to urge them to support the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the federal hate crimes bill so that in the future, the FBI would have jurisdiction over these types of cases.”

Take Action:

Letters to the Editor
The Tennessean
Submit online here:

Letters to the Editor
The Southern Standard
105 College Street
McMinnville, TN 37110
E-mail Editor James Clark -

TBI Director Mark Gwyn
901 R.S. Gass Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37216

Warren County District Attorney Lisa Zavogiannis
P.O. Box 510
McMinnville, TN 37110
Phone: (931) 473-9572
Fax: (931) 473-7410

Warren County Sheriff's Office
Sheriff Jackie Matheny
108 Security Circle
McMinnville, Tennessee 37110

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
455 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-4944
Web Form:

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
185 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-3344
Web Form:

Warren County Mayor John Pelham
201 Locust Street, Ste. 1
McMinnville, TN 37110
(931) 473-2505

Tennessee State Senator Steve Roller (D –McMinnville)
3 Legislative Plaza
Nashville, TN 37243-0214
Phone (615) 741-6694


111 W Court Sq # 1
McMinnville, TN 37110
(931) 506-9250

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