Gay couple believes family, Gilbert home a target of hate crimes - East Valley Tribune: Public Safety

Gay couple believes family, Gilbert home a target of hate crimes

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Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012 5:41 pm | Updated: 5:47 pm, Fri Jul 20, 2012.

A week after a protest near Gilbert Town Hall in support of a family that has reportedly been the target of trespassing, arson and property damage, the family experienced another incident of trespassing this week, one of the fathers said.

The family, headed by a gay couple, believes it is the target of hate crimes.

“Is it kids who are doing it?” asked Felix Bermea, rhetorically. “I do think it’s kids — but it’s not aimless kids doing aimless things.”

Early last week, the family’s children were in the backyard swimming when they saw two people at the home, one of which had climbed over the backyard fence, Bermea said.

“They came in hysterical,” he said.

Since the march with more than 50 supporters last weekend, the family met with Mayor John Lewis on Wednesday, Bermea said.

“He seemed extremely concerned,” Bermea said. “We walked away feeling really good.”

They discussed creating a block watch and a block party to bring heightened awareness to the neighborhood, he said.

And while these and other measures, such as speaking at an HOA meeting next week, will help, Bermea wants the police to focus on his neighborhood.

“I hope they (the police) would continue to do what they say they are going to do,” he said.

Bermea and his partner of 21 years, Roy Messerschmidt, live with their four adopted children — two boys, ages 14 and 12, and two girls, ages 10 and 9.

Since March, members of the family have called police multiple times to report pounding on their door, burning bushes at the adjoining park and in their front yard and other vandalism.

Most of these incidents have happened when the two parents aren’t at home, Bermea said.

“They wait until they see our two cars gone from the driveway,” he said.

And while the family hopes to bring attention to their plight, it appears many in Gilbert have heard it.

“Felix Bermea and Roy Messerschmidt have a wonderful family and are making great efforts to provide a loving home for their children,” said mayor John Lewis. “Every family in our community is important. Any family in Gilbert that is hurting, is under attack or feels unsafe deserves our attention.”

The march and protest staged on two corners of Gilbert and Warner roads, originally to protest Gilbert Police, was instead turned to show support for the family.

“There was a gap in communication and that gap goes both ways,” said Sgt. Bill Balafas, Gilbert Police spokesman. At this point, both sides are trying to make a fresh start, he said.

The two fathers met with Gilbert police two weeks ago to help clear the air and to address the concerns of the family.

“I did feel better at meeting with the chief,” Bermea said. “We were promised the full support of the department.”

Part of that support included additional patrols in the neighborhood. It also meant making sure that everyone was safe during the protest, as Gilbert and Phoenix police officers met with protesters before the rally to go over safety tips and address concerns.

The Bermea/Messerschmidt family moved to their home in the area in November after living in another Gilbert home for two years.

“We used to live in Queen Creek and we never had to worry about who’s going to be knocking on our door tonight,” Messerschmidt said.

The multiple incidents in Gilbert, which include someone reportedly chasing the kids in the adjoining park in the dark, have left the children feeling very scared, Bermea said.

“They’re scared for their lives,” he said. The children are currently in counseling, he said.

While the Bermea-Messerschmidt family believes that these incidents amount to a hate crime, it legally does not meet the definition of a hate crime, said Gilbert Police Chief Tim Dorn in a statement. The FBI and the Anti Defamation League also agree, he said.

“There has been no direct contact with family members,” Dorn said. “There have been no threats of violence or phrases used in regard to race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. The written phrases are understandably offensive. Our investigation must be based on facts, evidence, and the law, not on emotion, perceptions and opinions.”

Gilbert Police ask that anyone with additional information in this case contact the department.

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