CLEVELAND, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury in Cleveland Tuesday indicted 12 Amish men and women in a series of religiously motivated hair-cutting assaults on other Amish.
The Justice Department said the seven-count indictment charges 10 men and two women, all from Ohio, with multiple counts stemming from five separate assaults that occurred from September through November. In each case, authorities allege, the defendants forcibly removed beard and scalp hair from the victims, with whom they had ongoing religious disputes.
In the Amish religion, men wear their beards and women wear their hair as symbols of their faith.
"For nearly 500 years, people have come to this land so that they could pray however and to whomever they wished," U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach said. "Violent attempts to attack this most basic freedom have no place in our country."
The defendants were identified as 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.
They were charged under the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which prohibits anyone from willfully causing or trying to cause bodily injury to another person with a dangerous weapon because of the actual or perceived religion of that person, and federal law prohibiting obstruction of justice, including witness tampering and the destruction or concealment of evidence.
Samuel Mullet Sr. is the bishop of the Amish community in Bergholz, Ohio. The other defendants are members of that community.
They are accused of 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. In some of the assaults, individuals who attempted to intervene to protect or rescue the victims were injured, as well.