FARGO — A Fargo man accused of assaulting two Black girls and using racial slurs against them and a Barnesville woman accused of spray-painting a statue of Jesus in downtown Fargo are under investigation by federal officials.

Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski told the City Commission on Monday night, Oct. 18, that there have been no cases filed in court under the new local hate crime ordinance.

However, since the start of 2021, there have been 17 reports in which the initial responding officer indicated possible bias by the suspect.

After review, four had facts that supported further investigation of bias.

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Crimes that are motivated, in whole or in part, by race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity are reported to the FBI if the police investigation "reveals objective facts that would lead a reasonable and prudent person to conclude the actions would apply."

One case has been turned over to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office for possible prosecution, while another case involves a suspect that hasn't been found. The FBI declined to further pursue a third case, and a fourth was requested by federal officials.

The case federal officials are reviewing for prosecution under federal hate crime laws involved a Sept. 21 incident in which Larry Baldner, 73, is accused of assaulting a juvenile Black female by slapping her, pulling her hair and lifting her off the ground by her neck, causing her airway to be restricted, among other injuries.

Larry Baldner
Larry Baldner

The victim and her sister both said Baldner used racial slurs toward them during the incident, and he was arrested for aggravated assault, a felony. He could face additional charges and increased penalties if the incident is determined to be a hate crime.

Another incident on Aug. 4 involved a report from a Black female at a local truck stop who said a man yelled racial slurs at her and made disparaging remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement. The suspect told the victim, "You're going to die," and made an obscene gesture toward her before driving away.

A store employee said the same man was in the store and yelled racially offensive remarks toward the staff.

Security video was reviewed by police, but the man couldn't be identified and no license plate could be provided. The case is inactive until additional information arises.

The case the FBI declined to review involved a July 13 incident when police saw a disturbance in downtown Fargo where a Black man pulled a knife and walked aggressively toward a Native American victim. During an interview, the suspect told police he was angry because the victim was panhandling, and he "hates Indians."

The suspect was arrested for terrorizing and the case is pending with prosecutors, but it won't be prosecuted under the hate crime law.

Zibolski said there was another case where the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office requested a review. It involved an April 17 incident in which Blair Rebecca Whitten, 28, of Barnesville, is accused of spray-painting a statute of Jesus at the St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Fargo.

Blair Whitten. Special to The Forum.
Blair Whitten. Special to The Forum.

The police report said they didn't find definitive bias during their investigation, but the case could potentially fit federal hate crime laws because it involved damage to religious property. The case is being investigated by the FBI, but otherwise it will go into municipal court where Whitten faces a Class B misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief. She also faces other, more serious charges in separate incidents.

Zibolski said there wouldn't be charges filed under both federal and local hate crime laws in any of the cases.