October 28, 2010 in City

Defendant has tattoos linked to Aryan beliefs

Expert explains symbols’ meanings
By The Spokesman-Review

The tattoos on a man accused of racially harassing a Hispanic man last summer are common symbols representing Aryan neo-Nazi beliefs, the Idaho Department of Correction’s top official on gang symbols and affiliations said Wednesday in a Kootenai County courtroom.

Tim Higgins was an expert witness called by Barry McHugh, county prosecutor, in the third trial of Frank and William Tankovich, brothers accused of malicious harassment and conspiracy to commit malicious harassment. Their first trial ended in mistrial and the second in a hung jury. A third brother, Ira, was found guilty of a lesser charge relating to the incident on Aug. 16, 2009, at the Coeur d’Alene home of Kenneth Requena.

William Tankovich has a tattoo of two lightning bolts, which Higgins said represents the Nazi SS insignia. Higgins said that in his job evaluating the tattoos of incoming inmates for security purposes he has seen the same tattoo 100 times in the past year alone. Tankovich’s other tattoo shows the name “Chris” with the word “forever” under it. Embedded in the letters of the word Chris are three-leaf clovers, which Higgins said also represent white supremacist beliefs. Higgins said he’s seen similar tattoos, with the three-leaf clover embedded in other words, 600 to 700 times in the past 12 years.

“These are common symbols worn by Aryan white supremacists,” Higgins testified.

Defense attorneys for the brothers objected to Higgins’ testimony and called for a mistrial, saying the prosecutor made no attempt to have the expert describe the tattoos before asking their significance. In addition, said William Tankovich’s attorney, Chris Schwartz, Higgins cannot testify to what the tattoos specifically mean to William Tankovich, only what they commonly represent.

Higgins described them as “Nazi SS bolts,” Schwartz said, with no context or description, and as far as the jury is concerned, “We can’t un-ring that bell.”

Kootenai County 1st District Judge John Luster denied the motion for mistrial but agreed more description was in order.

The jury also was shown pictures of Ira Tankovich’s tattoos, which include the words “Aryan Pride,” on his legs.

The prosecution completed its case with Higgins’ testimony.

The defense presented one witness, a 911 dispatcher who took a call from William Tankovich on the day in question, then called Tankovich back after being disconnected. Recordings of both calls reveal Tankovich saying he’d stopped to buy some “phone line” at Requena’s house and the “beaner pulled a gun on me.”

The case is expected to be given to the jury later today following a 9 a.m. visit to the scene of the incident at 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Prosecutors say Requena and his wife, Kimberly, were in their open garage on a hot summer day when the Tankovich brothers drove by in a pickup truck, then backed up and confronted them. The Requenas said they felt so threatened they called 911 and got their handgun. The Tankoviches left, but the three brothers returned 20 minutes later on foot, two walking a pit bull from one direction and one from another direction with a loaded handgun.

Ira Tankovich was subsequently taken into custody and was convicted of being a felon in possession of a handgun and conspiracy to disturb the peace.

Defense attorneys, however, say the Tankoviches were driving by the house and stopped when they saw Requena’s electrical contracting truck, hoping to buy some phone cable. William Tankovich’s then-21-year-old daughter and Ira Tankovich’s fiancée were with them. They said William Tankovich got out and approached the house but stopped when Requena pulled a gun. Defense attorneys say the Tankoviches returned to the house while contacting the police.

It is undisputed that while talking to police outside the Requena home, both William and Frank Tankovich repeatedly referred to Requena using a racial slur. However, defense attorneys say they were arguing with police because they wanted to see Requena arrested, and prosecutors say they continued to threaten Requena even while in the presence of the police.

To prove malicious harassment, the prosecution must show that Requena was physically threatened because of his race, color or national origin. A conspiracy conviction requires agreement among more than two people to make that threat.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email