When hate comes to town

Reno has endured race- and sexual-preference-based murders

Tony Montgomery at age 16 in this Montgomery family photograph.

Tony Montgomery at age 16 in this Montgomery family photograph.

Photo courtesy Montgomery family

Reports that nine people shot dead in a Charleston, South Carolina, church on June 17 were victims of a hate crime sent ripples of shock through the nation, but especially resonated with the extended Montgomery family in Reno.

It was just after 1 a.m. on Dec. 9, 1988, when Tony Montgomery lay gasping for breath outside his sister’s northeast Reno home. Skinhead Matthew David Faessel, 18, went looking for a black man to shoot after being angered by a woman’s report at a Sparks party that she had been sexually assaulted by a black man. Faessel fired seven shots at Montgomery, 27. One found its mark. Montgomery stumbled across the street and fell at his sister’s door.

“I think I got him,” Faessel screamed. “I must have got him. Look at him run.” Faessel and fellow skinhead Michael Stringer, 16, then exchanged a high five and a Sieg Heil, court records said.

“Once we found out who did the (Charleston) killings and that he was affiliated with these hate groups, it brought back memories of my brother getting shot by skinheads,” Calvin Montgomery said. “There’s a still a whole lot of hate in this world. People just need to come together and stop hating each other.”

Justin Suade Slotto, 21, had been “fag bashing” two or three times before he went to Idlewild Park on July 8, 1994. Slotto was to be the bait to lure a gay man to a designated spot where three other friends would join and beat the victim.

Reno medical office manager William Metz, 36, instead got Slotto into his car. They drove away from Idlewild Park when Slotto convinced him to pull over at Reno High School. They got out of the car and were walking on a field when Slotto attacked Metz, stabbing him at least 22 times with a knife. Slotto, who described himself to police as a white supremacist, wanted to carve a swastika into Metz but didn’t have time.

Slotto told police the only people he would kill were homosexuals, and he was out to make a point.

“Homosexuals will think twice about picking up people at Idlewild,” Slotto told police, later adding: “In a way, I’d be proud if one of my friends had done this.”

Bree Carlson was friends with Metz and by coincidence was also acquainted with Slotto, although she wouldn’t call him a friend. Carlson said she has been thinking about Metz lately. His murder and Montgomery’s murder five years earlier prompted the Nevada Legislature to pass hate crime legislation in 1995. The legislation has been amended several times since, including in 2013, when gender identity was added to the list of protected characteristics.

“The fact that [Metz] was killed politicized a lot of people,” Carlson said. “His sacrifice and the sacrifice of a lot of others is what brought us here.”

Law and disorder

The Reno area and Nevada continue to experience hate crimes, although usually less than a handful of such crimes each year are reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation from this area. Most are from Clark County. Nevada hate crimes peaked in 2006 with 125—53 based on race (like being black) and 43 on ethnicity (like being Hispanic)—with spikes of 94 in 2008 and 91 in 2012.

Nevada tends to rank in the middle in per capita comparisons for hate crimes, but those comparisons seem unreliable, and therefore are hard to put into perspective. For instance, in 2012 Nevada had more hate crimes reported to the FBI than Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana combined. Meanwhile, states like Oregon, Maine, Colorado and Connecticut tend to rank in the top 10 in reported hate crimes per capita.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said hate crime laws are useful tools for prosecutors even if cases are uncommon. In Nevada, a judge can double a sentence up to 20 years if the crime is shown to have been motivated by hatred of one of the legally designated groups.

And it applies to a wide range of crimes, from murder to misdemeanor assault or graffiti. So if someone defaces a synagogue as part of a hate crime, a six-month jail sentence can be doubled with another six months.

“It’s a very expansive statute that can be used if these crimes are committed,” Hicks said. “We’re not seeing them as much as one might think.”

The problem with hate crime prosecutions is that not only does the prosecutor have to prove there was a crime, but the prosecutor also has to prove it was done because of race, religion, sexual orientation or some other factor. That’s tough to do and often requires some kind of admission by the defendant, Hicks said.

Coincidentally, his office does have one murder case pending as part of an alleged hate crime. Gregory Shane Poole, 38, pleaded not guilty to murder in the October stabbing death of Jerome Neal in downtown Reno. Poole is white, and Neal was black. Hicks said because it is a pending case, his office can’t comment on it.

Poole defense lawyer Rich Molezzo said his client did not commit a hate crime. Prosecutors argue Poole committed a hate crime based on alleged statements after the event, and there are no indications prior to the incident that he intended to commit a hate crime, Molezzo said.

Remembering hate

The murders of Montgomery and Metz were Reno’s most high-profile hate crimes of the last generation.

Montgomery’s survivors remember him as kind and quiet. He tended to spend more time with family than with others in the community,

“Tony was a good person,” said his brother, Dennis. “He didn’t bother anybody.” Tony seemed eager to help others, perhaps to a fault.

Michael Stringer, left, and Matthew Faessel committed some of the most notorious hate crimes in Reno’s history.

The Montgomery family moved to Reno from Monroe, Louisiana, in a few waves starting around 1970. They came for work. Tony came in 1986.

Around 1 a.m. on Dec. 9, 1988, Larry Montgomery talked to Tony, his uncle, about going to a nightclub. Tony was walking from one sister’s home on East Ninth Street to another sister’s home on Andesite Avenue, where Larry was supposed to pick him up.

But fate intervened in the form of teen-age skinheads Faessel and Stringer. A party on 12th Street in Sparks had many skinheads. A teen at the party said she had been sexually assaulted by both black and white men. She was making the point that people of both races were equally culpable, that blacks were not worse than whites.

Faessel fixated on the report of the rape by the black man. As the party went on, Stringer and Angela Stanley, 17, left in a borrowed 1980 Ford Mustang and returned later as Faessel announced he was heading to a nearby convenience store to find someone to stab. The discussion turned to taking revenge on someone black with Stringer saying, “Let’s go kill a nigger.” They got a .22-caliber rifle and went to northeast Reno, which skinheads referred to as “brown town.”

They found one person but decided against shooting him, then found a second. Stringer stopped Faessel from shooting because that person was white. Then they found Montgomery. Stanley was driving and Stringer sat in the front passenger seat, but he rolled down his window so Faessel could shoot from the back seat. They stopped the Mustang and waited for their victim to walk past.

Faessel fired seven shots. Six ended up in two Andesite Avenue homes. The .22-caliber rimfire is a relatively low-powered round, but the lone shot that hit Montgomery proved to be fatal. Faessel had someone else dispose of the rifle in the Truckee River east of Sparks.Then Calvin Montgomery got a call from one of his sisters, Deborah Jean Reese, that someone was on the ground in front of her home, and she couldn’t tell if it was Tony. Calvin lived a few minutes away and arrived to find his brother taking his last gasps of breath. Larry also arrived after having spoken to Tony 10-15 minutes earlier about going to the nightclub.

Police had no idea who killed Tony, Dennis said. In fact, initially the focus was on a black suspect, as police thought it might be drug- or gang-related, Dennis said. Then a mother of one of the other skinheads at the party heard what happened and called Secret Witness.

Larry said he had never even heard of skinheads before his uncle’s death.

“It brought a lot of black and white people together,” he said. “Even a lot of white people didn’t know about skinheads.”

“At the time, we wanted to go for revenge on the skinheads,” Calvin said. “My mother preached against violence. She said, those guys will pay for what they did to my brother. Don’t get in the same predicament. The Lord will take care of those guys.”

Civil rights groups and others requested the Montgomerys hold a march or a ride to raise awareness of the skinhead attack, but Calvin said the family didn’t do it because it wouldn’t bring back Tony.

Estella Montgomery’s belief in non-violence extended to opposing the death penalty for the teens who killed her son, although others in the family liked the idea.

“She said, ’If I tell you to kill these young men, I’m no better than they are,’” said Fannie Payne, Tony’s sister.

Payne recalled an outpouring of support for the family.

“Everybody in Nevada, all churches, all races, they stood by us,” Payne said. “They brought us food. They brought us clothes. They brought us everything.”

The skinhead problem for the Montgomery family, specifically Payne, did not stop with Tony’s murder. Payne sang in the choir at Second Baptist Church, and one Sunday a taxi pulled up and skinheads got out and sat in on the service, saying they came to hear Payne sing. Now it seems to foreshadow what Charleston murder suspect Dylann Roof is alleged to have done at the historic at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during Bible study. Payne had second thoughts about singing .

“My pastor said to me, ’Don’t let nobody do this to you. Go and sing and sing like you never sang before,’” Payne said.

They didn’t move during the service and got up and left shortly before the service ended, she said.

Later, skinheads would go to her home, ring her doorbell, then stand in the street and stare at her when she opened the door.

“I’m glad the people back here didn’t get crazy” after her brother’s murder, Payne said. “They let the authorities do their job. Looting and burning isn’t going to bring anyone back.”

Assistant district attorney Ed Basl prosecuted Faessel, Stringer and Stanley. The random nature of the murder and the fact it was based on skin color generated more interest in the case, Basl said.

Stanley cut a plea bargain and agreed to testify against Faessel and Stringer. Stanley pleaded guilty to second degree murder and Washoe District Court Judge Brent Adams sentenced her to 15 years in prison. Stanley was paroled in 1996 and discharged from parole in 1999, the Nevada Department of Corrections reported.

Tony Montgomery was murdered in December 1988. Members of the extended Montgomery family in 2015 include, from left, Mark Mahan, brother Calvin Montgomery, nephew Larry Montgomery and brother Dennis Montgomery.

Photo courtesy Montgomery family

Faessel expressed remorse at the sentencing, telling Tony’s survivors he hoped they took comfort in his punishment.

“The fact I have problems with alcohol and drug abuse is overshadowed by the fact I was a member of an organization which did not meet the approval of the public,” Faessel said.

Neither Basl nor the Montgomery family believed his remorse was genuine.

“Generally by the time of sentencing in most of these situations people have comments to make to get the lowest sentence available under the circumstances, or set themselves up for parole,” Basl said.

Adams sentenced Faessel and Stringer to two consecutive life sentences for murder plus up to 18 years consecutive for other crimes. Faessel and Stringer were each paroled from their first murder life sentence to their second in 2007. NDOC reports they could be paroled from their second life sentence as early as 2017, but they still have up to 18 years to serve for other crimes in the case. NDOC refused a request to find out if Faessel or Stringer was willing to be interviewed for this article.

Biggest Little City

While there was no ride or march for Montgomery, Reno Municipal Court Judge Dorothy Nash Holmes remembers an extraordinary candlelight vigil for Metz in July 1994 attended by hundreds—one where speakers also mentioned Montgomery’s murder repeatedly, effectively making the event a memorial for both victims. Nash Holmes joined the march and vigil along the Reno Riverwalk and Wingfield Park, as did Reno Police Chief Richard Kirkland, other members of law enforcement, public officials, religious groups and civil rights groups as well as the public. Her staff convinced her to wear body armor.

Law enforcement formed an informal coalition to track any threats to people in minority communities. Hate crime legislation also passed in the 1995 Nevada Legislature.

“Most normal people in law enforcement and most normal people in the community thought we wouldn’t need a special law about this, but it turns out we did,” Nash Holmes said. “It woke up Reno that we have some real big city, racial-zealot type issues.”

The Nevada Legislature passed the hate crime laws with little opposition, Nash Holmes said.

Carlson helped organize the candlelight vigil. She was a member of the Gay and Lesbian Student Union at the University of Nevada, Reno and Metz had served as an advisor to the group.

“In 1994 to have that level of engagement in Reno when a gay man was murdered, that was pretty remarkable,” said Carlson, who is now director of the Structural Racism Program for National People’s Action, a direct action group.

While Carlson worked with others to get hate crime legislation passed, she’s no longer sure that is the answer.

“I would not have done anything that would make it possible for people to be incarcerated longer,” Carlson said “It’s pretty hypocritical to say that individual people, like Justin Slotto … are somehow worse than a prison industrial system … that systematically imprisons people of color.”

She still believes hate crimes are worse than other crimes, but isn’t sure tougher sentencing is the answer.

Carlson remembers Metz as a generous and loving person. “He liked to have fun, to have communion with people,” she said. “He created a lot of spaces that were very special to a lot of us.”

Carlson also crossed paths with Slotto in Reno. He was a year or two older than her, and they may have gone to the same high school or they may have liked the same music.

“He was a skinhead. I’m black. We didn’t have much interaction,” she said.

Carlson sat in the Reno Justice Court during the preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence for the case against Slotto to proceed. It was then that Reno Police Department Detective Joe Depczynski revealed to the public that Slotto wanted to carve a swastika into Metz’s body. A car pulled into the Reno High School parking lot—possibly a police sergeant on patrol—and that cut short Slotto’s plans.

Horror swept over Carlson’s face, her mouth and eyes fully open from the shock of the testimony. That Slotto could stab Metz was one thing, Carlson explained. “But going, ’Hey, while I’m at it, why don’t I carve a swastika into him’ is unfathomable,” she recalled.

Slotto did one other thing to ensure Metz’s death. After stabbing him, he took Metz’s car keys. Evidence shows Metz later stumbled back to his car and was found dead about 60 feet from his car, presumably walking for help. Slotto still had the keys on him when detectives caught up to him a few days later.

At his sentencing, Slotto apologized to the survivors of Metz. “The night in question, I did not intend to kill anybody but to beat up a homosexual,” he said. Slotto, who wanted to be a forest ranger, said he spent 108 days in solitary confinement after his arrest and said he couldn’t smile. “Each time I did smile, I thought of Mr. Metz and how he could never smile again,” he said.

Prison officials found Slotto dead in his Ely State Prison cell on July 9, 2007, the White Pine County Sheriff’s Office reported. He left a will, braided his shoelaces together and hung himself. He was found one day after the 13th anniversary of Metz’s murder.

Barbara Feltner, Metz’s aunt, said it is still difficult for the family to deal with his loss. She called him extraordinary with a gift for friendship.

“We don’t think of the day he died, but we do think of him on the date of his birth,” Feltner said. “I think our whole family tends to think of our friends and family who have passed on in terms of the gifts they have given us.”