07/31/08 — Federal agents called in local cross burning

View Archive

Federal agents called in local cross burning

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 31, 2008 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office has filed another charge against a Dudley man who allegedly set up a wooden cross on his neighbor's lawn and set it on fire, and now the FBI has also been asked to investigate possible civil rights violations.

Dixon Steward, 38, now faces a felony charge, and has seen his bond jump from $500 to more than $35,000 since the morning of July 19 when his neighbor, Gerald Buchanan, found the six-foot cross burning outside his children's bedroom window.

News-Argus/Bobby Williams

Wayne County Sheriff's Office investigator Shawn Harris fingerprints Dixon Steward while lead investigator Lt. Carl Lancaster looks on. Steward has been charged with a felony count of placing a burning cross on property. The FBI also is now involved.

Officials from the Wayne County Sheriff's Office originally charged Steward with ethnic intimidation.

Then, on Tuesday, after a judge ordered him to avoid contact with Buchanan and his family, Dixon was arrested and charged with violating that order, after allegedly threatening Buchanan's 9-year-old son.

At that point, Steward's bond jumped from $500 to $10,000.

And within hours of that arrest, officials added the felony charge of placing a burning or flaming cross on property and tacked on another $25,000.

Lt. Carl Lancaster said in his 20-plus years in law enforcement, he has never seen a case like this.

"A burning cross? No sir," he said Wednesday as Steward was being fingerprinted. "This is definitely a first."

Buchanan could not believe it either.

He has been in an interracial relationship with his girlfriend, Tangie Wesley, for 12 years, but has never encountered this kind of hateful behavior before, he said.

But Steward, he alleges, was no ordinary neighbor.

In fact, Buchanan told investigators that the burning cross marked the culmination of a series of incidents that began earlier that week.

He said Steward had learned that he had called for authorities' help on a separate matter earlier that week - and began threatening his family.

"My lady was sitting outside, and heard them fussing across the street at us," Buchanan said July 21. "'We're going to do a drive-by,' different things, 'We're going to get you,' and all this type of stuff. I felt like it was targeted at our whole entire household."

One that includes the couple's four children.

"I just can't believe - this is 2008 - I just can't believe that something like this is still going on," Ms. Wesley said that same day.

Steward will remain in the Wayne County Jail under a $35,000 secured bond until his first court appearance, scheduled for this afternoon at the Wayne County Courthouse.

But Lancaster characterized the investigation, which now involves the FBI, as "ongoing" and said more charges could follow.

"This has been an ongoing investigation since the first offense," he said.

For more on Steward's first court appearance, follow the story as it develops on the Web at www.newsargus.com and see Friday's News-Argus for comments from the courtroom.