A judge declared a mistrial Tuesday in the trial of three Coeur d’Alene brothers accused of racially harassing a Hispanic family in August.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Art Verharen had just called his first witness in the trial of Ira Gino Tankovich, 48, William Michael Tankovich, 49, and Frank James Tankovich, 46, all charged with conspiracy to commit malicious harassment. The latter two also are charged with malicious harassment.
The trial stems from an Aug. 16 incident in which the Tankoviches allegedly confronted Kenneth Requena at his home near 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Coeur d’Alene. The prosecution said the Tankoviches drove by the home in a truck decorated with a swastika and the words “born to kill.” They spotted the Requena family, then stopped and backed up. Kenneth Requena felt so threatened he asked his wife to call 911 and get his handgun, which he displayed to the brothers. The Tankoviches left but returned 20 minutes later with a loaded handgun and a pit bull, and yelled racial slurs, Verharen said.
Attorneys for the Tankoviches, however, say the brothers stopped at the home to ask Requena, an electrical contractor, whether he had any cable for sale. When Requena displayed his handgun, the brothers left but returned 20 minutes later to report the incident to police, said attorney Christopher Schwartz, who is representing William Tankovich.
Kootenai County 1st District Judge John Luster declared the mistrial after Verharen played a recording of a 911 call made by witness Julie Oliver, a next-door neighbor. Oliver could be heard telling the dispatcher she believed the incident she saw from her kitchen window was “a racist thing,” and that her neighbor, Kenneth Requena, was being threatened.
Both statements of opinion go to the heart of the case, Luster said. A malicious harassment charge forces the prosecution to prove, first, that Requena was threatened, and second, that the threat was racially motivated, he said. The 911 tape offered opinions on both, before the prosecution had laid any foundation of evidence, Luster said.
“That is a significant problem,” Luster said. “It’s clearly a violation. A legal error has occurred.”
Luster scheduled a new trial for April 12, with a pretrial conference set for April 9.
Over the past year, the Inland Northwest has experienced a flare-up in racial harassment and assault incidents, but few have resulted in arrests or charges. The Tankoviches are among the first to be charged and tried.
Police on the scene that day described the Tankoviches as “extremely belligerent” and said they yelled countless racial slurs at Requena. 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 him, police reports say.
Schwartz, however, said the Tankoviches returned to the house that day while on the phone with police to report Requena pulling a gun on them. When they arrived and found police on the scene but unwilling to arrest Requena, they became angry and yelled racial slurs, Schwartz said.
“Despicable? Possibly. Ignorant? Definitely. But not illegal,” he said of the Tankoviches’ actions.
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 the day of the August incident. His brothers were arrested after a grand jury indicted them in November.
William Tankovich posted $100,000 bail but was jailed in December after a judge ruled he’d fraudulently posted a property bond. He’s since been released on bond. He 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 from five years to life in prison. Frank Tankovich is being held on $70,000 bond.
Ira Tankovich’s bond remains at $250,000 for the conspiracy charge and for a weapons charge. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in California in 1990 and is prohibited from owning firearms.