CLEVELAND -- The FBI confirms it has joined the investigation into the Amish beard-cutting attacks, looking at them as possible hate crimes.
"We're looking at any potential federal violations, specifically any civil rights violations, because we take civil rights violations as a very serious matter," FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson told WKYC.
"We met with local law enforcement about a week ago and made the decision to enter the case," she said. A number of Northeast and Eastern Ohio sheriffs were involved in that meeting.
Medina County Sheriff Neil Hassinger says he is happy the FBI is getting involved in the beard-cutting investigation.
"It is a hate crime because they are picking on people who don't want to do things religiously exactly as they're doing it, so it does become a hate crime," said Hassinger, whose county has a sizeable Amish community near its southern border.
"We have a good relationship with the Amish bishop, who lets us know what his people are telling him," the sheriff explained. "Generally the Amish are reluctant to report crimes, but we have good communication.
Hassinger even dressed two of his female deputies in Amish clothing and put them in an Amish buggy to crack a series of buggy robberies being carried out by non-Amish, who would cut off buggies with their cars on rural roads.
"They'd rob them. They were stopping their buggies and taking their money from them because they know the Amish use cash," Hassinger said. "But our deputies dressed as Amish in the buggy surprised them."
Hassinger said the Amish are seen as easy targets by criminals and even by pranksters who know they will probably not resist or fight back. "But we have put a stop to a number of crimes against the Amish."
The FBI's Anderson does not know how deeply involved federal agents may eventually become in the beard-cutting investigation.
"We're taking a good look at this and working closely with both the Carroll County and Holmes County sheriff's offices," she said. "We're at the preliminary stages so we're taking a look at everything to see if there are any federal violations."