BURLINGTON — A Barre man accused of threatening to burn down the home of a largely Hispanic family has filed a motion seeking to dismiss the federal charges he faces.
Stuart Kurt Rollins, 59, pleaded not guilty in November in U.S. District Court in Burlington to two felony counts of threatening and intimidating. One of the charges said Rollins threatened to burn a Hispanic family’s home to the ground and set family members on fire.
The second charge said he threatened a Caucasian woman who lives with the Hispanic family. Both counts are hate crimes under the Fair Housing Act and are said to be the first federal hate crimes charged in Vermont.
If convicted, Rollins faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He’s been held without bail in custody of U.S. Marshals since his arraignment in November.
According to court records, Rollins shouted derogatory comments about the family’s race and perceived national origin, and in July told family members to go back to their country.
Rollins has an extensive criminal history dating back to the 1980s and includes arrests for sexual assault, domestic violence, simple assaults and sexual crimes against children, court records show.
Attorney Steven Barth represents Rollins and in March he filed an 18-page motion seeking to have the indictment against Rollins dismissed.
Barth argued the incident was a dispute between neighbors and was confined entirely in Barre so the federal government had no jurisdiction in the case.
“Second, applying (the Fair Housing Act) to a dispute between long-settled neighbors would significantly alter the federal-state balance, would vastly extend federal police power, and would violate the Tenth Amendment. Accordingly, the indictment must be dismissed,” he wrote.
Barth said the family had lived in their home for more than a decade and Rollins had lived in Barre for five years.
He said others neighbors have reported having “confrontations” with Rollins, appearing to suggest Rollins’ alleged conduct was not solely directed at the family.
He wrote, “For example, Mr. Rollins’ next door neighbor described unsettling interactions in which Mr. Rollins lobbed insults, appeared outside in a state of undress, played very loud music, and said, ‘Die, retard, die.’
“The neighbors living two houses north of the alleged victims also described confrontations with Mr. Rollins. These confrontations involved the neighbors’ dogs that Mr. Rollins had threatened. One confrontation involved threats, inappropriate language and an attempt by Mr. Rollins to ‘moon’ the neighbor (i.e., dropped his pants to expose his buttocks).”
In their 26-page response to Rollins’ motion, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Torti and attorney Olimpia Michel with the Department of Justice, wrote Congress does have the ability to “enact legislation prohibiting interference with one’s right to live in a home free from racially motivated threats of violence, regardless of whether the defendant and victim are strangers or long-standing neighbors.”
Barth argued there was no interstate commerce impacted in this dispute. But Torti and Michel wrote Rollins’ actions were used to intimidate the family’s participation in the housing market.
“Quite simply, the defendant was charged with conduct prohibited under a statute that Congress enacted pursuant to well-recognized constitutional authority to combat the national problem of race-based violence; accordingly, this Court should deny his Motion to Dismiss,” they wrote.
A hearing on the motion was held May 15 by video conference. After hearing arguments, Judge Christina Reiss deferred judgment on the order and asked both parties to submit additional documentation to clarify the factual record in the case by May 29.