(CN) – An Amish bishop and 11 members of his community were indicted in Ohio on Tuesday for cutting the beards and hair off of men and women who practice the Amish religion – an alleged hate crime stemming from religious disputes.
Authorities arrested the bishop, Samuel Mullet Sr., last month along with six others – all of whom are named in Tuesday’s indictment.
The defendants belong to an Amish community in Bergholz, Ohio, according to the federal indictment.
“Mullet Sr. exerted control over the Bergholz community by taking the wives of other men into his home, and by overseeing various means of disciplining community members, including corporal punishment,” Justice Department officials said in a statement. “As a result of religious disputes with other members of the Ohio Amish community, the defendants planned and carried out a series of assaults on their perceived religious enemies. The assaults involved the use of hired drivers, either by the defendants or the alleged victims, because practitioners of the Amish religion do not operate motor vehicles. The assaults all entailed using scissors and battery-powered clippers to forcibly cut or shave the beard hair of the male victims and the head hair of the female victims. During each assault, the defendants restrained and held down the victims. During some of the assaults, the defendants injured individuals who attempted to intervene to protect or rescue the victims. Following the attacks, some of the defendants participated in discussions about concealing photographs and other evidence of the assaults.”
Prosecutors say that the manner in which Amish men and women wear their hair are symbols of their faith.
The 11 defendants, charged with conspiracy to violate the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act are Samuel Mullet Sr., Johnny S. Mullet, Daniel S. Mullet, Levi F. Miller, Eli M. Miller, Emanuel Shrock, Lester Miller, Raymond Miller, Freeman Burkholder, Anna Miller and Linda Shrock. Those 11 are also charged with obstruction of justice.
Mullet Sr., Levi Miller, Lester Miller and a 12th defendant, Lester Mullet, are also charged “with concealing or attempting to conceal various items of tangible evidence, including a camera, photographs and an over-the-counter medication that was allegedly placed in the drink of one of the assault victims.”
The seven-count indictment addresses five separate assaults that allegedly occurred in the three months leading up to the November 2011 arrests.
Each defendant faces five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy, but hate crime charges could spell a life sentence. The maximum penalty for the obstruction charge is 20 years in prison. Obstruction charges carry 20-year sentences.