Swastika Branded on Mentally Challenged Victim; Kidnapping, Hate Crime Charges Loom, Says D.A.

swastika, hate crime, branding
Police Say Men Shaved Swastika into Victim's Hair (CBS/KRQE)

FARMINGTON, N.M. (CBS/AP) Three men are accused of branding a swastika on a mentally challenged man's arm with a heated metal clothes hanger, and could face hate crime charges.

"We'll explore every conceivable available avenue in charging them with a hate crime because what happened to the victim was so horribly wrong," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Sarah Weaver.

Jesse Sanford, 24, William Hatch, 28, and Paul Beebe, 26, were charged Friday with kidnapping, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and other felony charges.

The three white men are accused of forcing the 22-year-old victim from the Navajo Indian reservation into a car on April 29, and driving him to an apartment. Besides branding the man's arm there, police say the suspects shaved a swastika into his hair and drew degrading words and pictures on his body with marker.

Afterward, according to the Farmington Daily Times, the trio allegedly kicked the victim out of the apartment, and a nearby convenience store clerk called police.

Hospital employees washed off the degrading speech and pictures. A local barbershop cut the man's hair to remove the swastika, police Sgt. Robert Perez said.

Officers obtained search warrants for the apartment and the men's vehicle. Insignias associated with white supremacist beliefs were found in the apartment, Perez said.

"We haven't identified this as a gang-related crime. That is still under investigation," Perez said. "But they appear to be associated in some fashion to the white supremacist movement."

According to court records, suspect Jesse Sanford told police the victim came into a McDonald's restaurant where the three men worked and was looking for a place to stay. Sanford claimed that the victim, who wanted a haircut and a tattoo, "wanted the swastika design because it was a tribal symbol," according to the court records.

New Mexico's hate crime law would add one year to the sentence for each charge if the men are convicted. The suspects face up to 35 1/2 years in prison, including a mandatory 18 years for kidnapping, if convicted of all the charges and the hate crime enhancement.

The men were jailed with bond for each set at $150,000 cash.