The Anti-Defamation League recognized a group of Montgomery County police officers and prosecutors Monday who solved a series of hate crimes aimed at a community in Wheaton. They were malicious crimes that went on for years with the chief intent by its architect was to drive people out of the neighborhood.
First and foremost, the plan didn't work. People didn't leave. Instead, they put up with it for years until one man had enough, setting up surveillance cameras and catching the man in the act.
Steven Armstrong has already been tried and convicted and served his time in prison for a crime carried out with a transmission pick.
You see, prosecutors and police say Armstrong had a problem with Latinos and Hispanics, and for years would puncture their tires. Time and time again.
"All the vandalism, all the destruction of property occurred to all the people perceived by the offender to be members of the immigrant community," said Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy. "And he was counting on the information never coming to the attention of the authorities, and for four years, it didn't."
McCarthy said people who were victimized were afraid to come forward until one man said he had enough.
"Some of these people had thousands of dollars in damage," said McCarthy. "We are talking hundreds of tires. Anybody who has had to pay for a tire knows how much a tire can cost. We are talking thousands and thousands of dollars. 20 different victims, some of them up to 18 times having their tires slashed."
It came to an end when Luis Guzman caught him on tape.
"He got in my driveway, he got in my wife's car, took everything out of the car and left it outside," said Guzman, who was one of the victims. "So that clearly said this guy is not for stealing."
Three weeks later, Guzman said his neighbor caught Armstrong red-handed and called the police.
And with Guzman's help and a dogged set of detectives, police found other victims - people who were too afraid to come forward.
On Monday night, Guzman got to thank them in person in front of an appreciative crowd at the National Press Club in Northwest D.C.
"We are not afraid anymore," said Guzman to the officers and prosecutors. "Thank you very much on behalf of all my neighbors. We appreciate it so much. God bless and thank you."
As part of his sentence, Armstrong was told he would have to find somewhere else to live when he got out of prison.
Armstrong was convicted of racial harassment and malicious destruction of property in July 2011. He was sentenced to three years in jail with all but 12 months suspended.
Guzman thinks Armstrong got off light and is angry he was not ordered to pay him back for all those tires he lost.
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