Three brothers accused of harassing a Coeur d’Alene man because of his ethnicity say they simply asked to buy electrical equipment from the man and were stunned when he pulled a gun on them.
Ira Gino Tankovich, 47, James Tankovich, 46, and William Michael Tankovich Jr., 49, were indicted by a grand jury under Idaho’s hate crime law. In court Friday, their lawyers characterized the Aug. 16 incident as a misunderstanding blown out of proportion after Aryan literature was distributed in Coeur d’Alene.
“I can’t see this case surviving a trial,” said Daniel Cooper, public defender for Frank Tankovich. “I just can’t fathom a jury returning a conviction.”
After the defendants chose to remain silent Friday, First District Judge John Luster entered not guilty pleas on charges of malicious harassment and conspiracy to commit harassment.
Brad Chapman, public defender for Ira Tankovich, said he will ask for the case to be heard in another county or by an outside jury “due to the political nature of this proceeding.”
The incident at the home of Kenneth H. Requena in the 1900 block of E. Pennsylvania Avenue came a week after Coeur d’Alene police ticketed three self-proclaimed members of the Aryan Nations for littering after they dropped pamphlets advertising the group in neighborhood yards. The charges were dropped this month.
Requena, who is Latino, told police his yard had been littered with Aryan Nations literature and he “felt these men were Aryans and were going to hurt him,” the police report said.
But the Tankovichs are not members of the Aryan Nations, had nothing to do with the pamphlets and merely wanted to buy copper wire from Requena, said Tiffany Tankovich, 21, in court.
“He just pointed a gun at us and said ‘I know who you are,’” said Tiffany Tankovich, William’s daughter. “My dad said ‘I’m sorry. We don’t want any troubles. We’ll leave.”
Ira Tankovich, who has a star with the word “ARYAN” tattooed on his left calf and a star with the word “PRIDE” tattooed on his right calf, was arrested that day after Requena and his wife told police he’d been approached by Tankovich and his brothers in a truck decorated with swastikas and the words “born to kill.”
The men left after Requena got a gun from his wife, then returned about 20 minutes later with a gun and a pit bull, yelling racial slurs. Requena told police he asked his wife to bring him a gun from inside the home when the men first pulled up because “he knew he was about to get a beat down,” according to a police report.
Police described the Tankovichs as “extremely belligerent” and said they yelled “countless” racial slurs at Requena after officers were on scene.
An officer said he saw Ira Tankovich throw a gun into a neighboring driveway. Police recovered a .22-caliber Ruger Mark III pistol belonging to Ira Tankovich, reports show.
Frank and William Tankovich were arrested in November after a grand jury indictment. William Tankovich posted $100,000 bail but was jailed Friday after a judge ruled he’d fraudulently posted a property bond.
Luster later reduced his bond to $70,000, along with Frank Tankovich’s.
William Tankovich’s son, Billy Tankovich, 25, said Friday that the truck is not decorated with swastikas, and that “born to kill” is a reference to the family’s hunting hobby.
Ira Tankovich, whose bond remains at $250,000 on the harassment charges, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in California in 1990 and is prohibited from owning firearms. He’s being held on another $250,000 bond for the weapons charge.
Tiffany Tankovich testified Friday that her father called police when they got home to report that Requena had pointed at a gun at them unprovoked. They returned to Requena’s home with a pit bull to make sure police found the right house, she said.
Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said he hadn’t heard about the call until it came up in court. Police were unavailable for comment late Friday.
William Tankovich faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Prosecutors amended charges against Ira and Frank Tankovich to declare them habitual offenders, which increases their potential penalty to five years to life in prison.