The Montgomery County Police Department and the state attorney’s office were awarded the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) SHIELD Award on Sept. 24 for their collaborative effort to successfully find and convict the man responsible for a series of vandalisms and hate crimes in Wheaton.
Among those honored were:
- Community Services Off. Sharif Hidayat
- Det. Matthew Vendemio
- Hispanic Liaison Blanca Kling
- Assistant State’s Attorney George Simms
- Assistant State’s Attorney Curtis Zeager
“It felt like the award symbolized in making a community whole again,” Hidayat said. “This case was more than just vandalism; it was a hate crime.”
Disturbed by the influx of Hispanics in his neighborhood, Steven Armstrong continually slashed tires and shouted racial slurs at his neighbor’s children.
This went on for four years between August 2006 and October 2010 before the Montgomery County Police were notified.
Luis Guzman, after having his tires slashed 20 times, decided he had enough and installed a video camera. The camera captured a man sneaking into his car; however, the footage was too grainy to identify the suspect, Vendemio said. Weeks later, when another victim saw Armstrong puncture his tires, they went to the police.
“I hate you Hispanic people. I hate you all,” Armstrong said, when he confessed at his home to police. Angered by the comment, Hidayat was compelled to canvass the entire block until he was able to find 19 victims to testify.
“We were committed to help the people of the Hispanic community,” Kling said. “They have claimed back their neighborhood.”
The highlight of the night, Hidayat and Vendemio said, was when Guzman was given the opportunity to speak.
“It was nice to express my feelings and show how he hurt us,” Guzman said. “It was a night to remember.”
It was more than just an award ceremony to Guzman; it was also a chance to get his message out and tell people to speak out against injustice.
“I am proud of the work the officers did and I feel safer now,” he said.
Armstrong has since been arrested and charged with malicious destruction of property and racial harassment and has served his time.