EUGENE, OR – Authorities sentenced Benjamin Jaramillo Hernandez, 69, to 15 months in federal prison and an additional three years supervised release for committing a hate crime against St. Mary Catholic Church. The crime occurred in September of 2018.
Assistant Attorney General Eric Drieban, “As demonstrated by this case, the Civil Rights Division will vigorously prosecute those who violate the right of individuals or entire communities to freely exercise their religious beliefs.”
According to U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams, Hernandez used intimidation and threats of violence to terrorize a single congregation, but Williams noted that the harm from hate crimes extends beyond the specific individuals or group targeted. He went on to say, “These crimes threaten the security, freedom, and well-being of entire communities.”
Renn Cannon, a special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, made it known that the right to worship freely is fundamental to life in America.
Court documents indicate that Hernandez was forced from the St. Mary property after unleashing an angry outburst. Then, on September 14, a member of the church staff reported to the Eugene Police Department that someone sprayed pepper spray on the door handles and in the mail slot of the St. Mary’s office. Consequently, employees experienced severe burning sensations on their fingers and it also caused respiratory distress.
The FBI Catches Him
The FBI was able to pinpoint Hernandez as the culprit from several surveillance videos. But Hernandez’s harassment of the church doesn’t end here. He later approached the church and accosted a passerby saying, “I’ve got something for you right here.” He then pointed at a bag he was carrying.
This was followed by an incident where a threatening note and seven 10mm Sig hollow point bullets were left in the office. Furthermore, officials identified Hernandez from surveillance footage and arrested him at a local library. Here, officers uncovered pepper spray, shotgun shells, and more 10mm Sig hollow point bullets.
The St. Mary Catholic Church staff and parishioners had been some variety of frightened or deeply concerned throughout the ordeal.