Racist slurs, swastikas in Coatesville: Man arrested for vandalism

A 25-year-old Coatesville man who told police he had associated in the past with white supremacist groups was in custody Thursday, accused of spray-painting racist and anti-Semitic graffiti on several locations in the Chester County city’s West End this week.

After his arrest Wednesday evening, George Rissell told police of his claims about association with extremist groups, Coatesville Police Cpl. Shawn Dowds said. Police had no additional information regarding specific groups with which Rissell may have been connected, Dowds said.

On his Facebook page, Rissell had referenced white supremacist phrases and symbols, but Dowds said authorities were not aware of any hate groups active in the Coatesville area.

Rissell — who, according to Dowds, had been released from prison sometime in the last few months — faces charges of ethnic intimidation and criminal mischief.

Tuesday morning, police found a swastika, as well as white-nationalist codes, 14:88 and 23:16, on the storefront of the Valley Mart convenience store at Strode Avenue and Valley Road. Similar graffiti was left on a white Mercedes-Benz parked on South Church Street, and on a garage on the 800 block of Madison Avenue, Dowds said.

Camera icon Alphonso Newsuan
Anti-Semitic and racist graffiti police say George Rissell spray-painted on property in Coatesville’s West End on Tuesday.

The vandalism crossed Coatesville city lines and continued into Valley Township, where the same kind of graffiti was left on street signs and a roadway, Dowds said.

Rissell lived on Strode Avenue, just a few blocks from the Valley Mart, Dowds said, and a surveillance photo led to his arrest. That arrest took place at the station, but Rissell did not turn himself in, said Dowds. The officer would not elaborate.

Rissell was being held at the Chester County Prison on Thursday with bail set at $150,000. His preliminary hearing is set for Monday. As of Thursday afternoon, an attorney for Rissell had not yet been listed on court documents.

Rissell has been arrested three previous times in Chester County, according to court documents.

In July 2016, he was arraigned on charges including aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment, and possessing an instrument of a crime. Rissell pleaded guilty to simple assault and possessing an instrument of crime. He was sentenced in December to a minimum of 11 months and 29 days in jail, and three years’ probation.

In November 2010, he faced similar charges, eventually pleading guilty to one felony count of aggravated assault. He was sentenced to a minimum of two years in jail.

A month earlier, in October 2010, Rissell was also charged with assault, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, harassment, and terroristic threats  He pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and aggravated assault and was sentenced to a minimum of one year in jail, followed by probation.

It was not immediately clear how much time Rissell spent in jail on any of these charges, but Coatesville police said they believe he was released sometime this summer. Sentences often include time served awaiting sentencing.

On his Facebook page, Rissell posted a status on July 18 that read: “After 364 days of hell on earth im home. Time to sit back with the wife and some friends and enjoy a nice bbq!”

His Facebook postings also included references to white supremacist symbols.

On July 9, 2016, he posted photographs of what appeared to be a six-pack of Corona beer that had been lit on fire and placed in the roadway in front of his home. In the caption, Rissell wrote: “And y’all wonder why I’m 14:88, 23:16, WPWW!!”

WPWW stands for “White Pride World Wide” and is commonly used by white supremacists, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The two numeric codes — the same ones left in the graffiti in Coatesville — are also commonly used among such groups, with “23:16” meaning “white power,” according to the ADL. “14:88” references a 14-word slogan coined by a member of a white supremacist terrorist group, according to the ADL, and “88” is a symbol for “Heil Hitler” (H is the eighth letter in the alphabet).

While Coatesville police said they did not know of any hate groups in their area, there are 40 such groups reported in Pennsylvania, according to data from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Seven of those 40 exist in Philadelphia or its suburban counties, according to the center.

Coatesville police said they took the incident very seriously.

“These beliefs are not held by the concerned citizens of both municipalities, and conduct such as that displayed by accused Rissell will always be met with immediate public condemnation,” the department said in a statement.

On Thursday, police in Wilmington were also investigating an incident in which a parked car was vandalized with similar racist and anti-Semitic graffiti. Police there said they believe that was an isolated incident.

Regional ADL director Nancy K. Baron-Baer — whose territory includes Eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware — said her office has received an increase in the number of reports of anti-Semitic and racist incidents in the last two weeks since the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va.