A Swanton woman and a national human rights organization are asking the village’s police chief to resign over his allegedly apathetic response to her complaints of racial intimidation by her neighbors.
Anika S. Fields said she wants Police Chief Adam Berg to step down after her numerous complaints to his department have gone unanswered. A resident of Paigelynn Place in the village, Fields said she has endured racial slurs, threats, and intimidating behavior from neighbors since she moved into the residence in 2015. She said the chief’s response has been to suggest she move to resolve the problem, place blame for the situation on her, and deny racial discrimination exists in the village.
“Over the years he has demonstrated that he has not taken this seriously, he is not genuinely willing to take this seriously” Fields said.
She said she has endured insults, inappropriate questions, and intimidating circumstances, such as neighbors demanding she stay inside her home and deliberately blocking her driveway with their vehicles.
“It went all the way up to the use of racial epithets – having the ‘N’ word yelled at me, and for no reason,” Fields said. She said one case involved an angry mob scene on her property after she ignored a neighbor’s demand that she and her seven-year-old daughter leave their porch and go inside.
Since Fields moved to Paigelynn Place only one person has been formally convicted of harassing her. Justin Riffle, 43, whose mother lives in the neighborhood, was found guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor charge, following a trial held Feb. 24 in Fulton County Eastern District Court. Fields said Riffle menaced her on the street on Oct. 31 last year.
She said in her case the problem stems specifically from two Paigelynn Place households that have lead the racial intimidation and recruit followers. Those households refused to participate in suggested mediation, she said.
A self-employed diversity and inclusion consultant, Fields added, “I’ve never experienced the type of harassment to this level. I’ve never seen this type of blatant ignorance before in my personal experience. I didn’t know that Swanton had this reputation.”
Fields said that Berg has personally witnessed threats and and racial epithets hurled at her while responding to her calls for police protection. She said during one response he acknowledged that he was witnessing the behavior but made no attempt to stop it. When Fields asked him how far his authority carried, Berg replied, “I can just arrest you both.”
During an emotionally distraught visit to his office to complain about harassment, Fields said she asked Berg what more she could do to end it. “And he said, quote, ‘Move.’ I left very discouraged,” she said.
Fields said only some officers in the police department are guilty of displaying apathy toward her complaints and Berg is one of them.
“They have absolutely treated the white respondents differently than they’ve treated me,” she said.
A statement issued Feb. 24 by the Swanton Police Department said all village employees underwent diversity and inclusion training last year. It said the village offered to pay a third party to investigate Fields’ claims but she hasn’t pursued the offer, possibly due to the impact of COVID-19.
“The Village of Swanton takes all calls and concerns seriously…Police officers strive to be fair and consistent to all parties involved,” the statement said, in part. “We welcome more dialogue and engagement to work towards and accomplish shared goals.”
A second statement released a day later announced that Berg, Mayor Neil Toeppe, and other village officials met with Gerald Rose, CEO of the Georgia-based New Order National Human Rights Organization, which represents Fields.
Berg said Fields’ accusations of complacency toward himself and other members of the village police force are not true.
“We’re out there doing the job that we’re supposed to do, and treating everybody fairly,” he said. He wouldn’t comment on whether he told Fields to move.
The chief said he’s not a racist and won’t resign. He declined to comment further.
Swanton Mayor Neil Toeppe said the meeting with Rose was productive and the village is dedicated to working toward greater inclusion of people of color.
He said confusion sometimes arises during disputes between neighbors. “Oftentimes, you have very conflicting statements of what happened and what caused it. In many cases neither party is happy with the outcome and feel that the police did not take their side in the matter,” he said.
Toeppe said misunderstanding can arise when a dispute involves people of different races. “There is a tendency to apply some kind of a sense of racial bias being involved. That may or may not be the case,” he said.
Toeppe emphasized that two village businesses opened by Blacks have been supported by residents, and that both the Village Council and Swanton Chamber of Commerce board have Black members.
Rose said he met with village officials because “I want to ease down the racial problem that is going on here in Swanton.” He said the meeting results have eased his demand for Berg to resign, but “a solution has been put on the table and they must earn up to it or we will continue to expose the corruption going on in Swanton.”
Christina Rodriguez, a staff attorney for The Fair Housing Center in Toledo, has helped Fields file formal complaints against Paigelynn Place with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “When communities like Swanton are kept majority white because of issues like this it deprives everyone in that community the benefits of a diverse community,” she said.
Fields said she still wants Berg to resign but after the meeting between Rose and village officials she may soften her view. She said she’s open to a resolution that will bring peace to people of color in Swanton.
As for disputes with her neighbors, “If they want to do something to resolve the issue, all they need to do is simply leave us alone. I wish them the best and I forgive them…but if they really want to create change and peace, leave us alone. We’re not interested in a relationship with them.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010