2 Investigates: Racial slurs, allegations of threats against Clearlake farmer's family

CLEARLAKE, Calif. (KTVU) -- A family from Clearlake says they've been the target of racial slurs and threats of violence from neighbors and a number of strangers over the last year. 

Despite cell phone video of part of a confrontation and sworn testimony from a witness, the family's neighbors deny any involvement in the threats and no one's been charged with a crime.

Dispute Over Cow

Daniel Cummins and his wife, Ashley Hathaway, have been operating the four acre Guiding Light Farm since 2009.  Cummins, who is African-American, and Hathaway, who is Native-American, say they had been in an on-going dispute with their white neighbors, Chris and Tina Rhodes, over a cow Cummins had previously agreed to sell to Rhodes.

Both sides give different descriptions of the sale.  Cummins insists the Rhodes had only paid half of the price on which they agreed.  The Rhodes say the sale was final and the cow belonged to them.

In April 2014, the dispute briefly turned physical between Cummins and Chris Rhodes when the cow ended up back on Cummins' property.  Cummins says the cow broke through a fence in the middle of the night.  The Rhodes believe Cummins stole the animal from them.

While police were called, an officer's report shows both sides declined to press charges over the fight and the dispute over who owned the cow was deemed a "civil matter."

A matter, both sides said was far from resolved.

Slurs Caught on Video

The day after the fight over the cow, Ashley Hathaway, recorded cell phone video of a Rhodes family member yelling racial slurs at her and her three year-old son, Zion.  The video appears to begin during the middle of the confrontation.

In the video, a man identified as the Rhodes' nephew shouts a racial slur and says, "Why don't your old man cut a hole in the fence again and meet us half way?" and later can be heard saying, "N****, you ain't nothing to me.  You're a menace to society. A (expletive) parasite."

"I knew that somebody else had to hear what they had to say," Hathaway later told 2 Investigates.

The Rhodes say it was Hathaway who provoked their nephew, Josh.

"He was upset. He loves us," said Chris Rhodes.  "I almost got the (expletive) beat out of me."

"We shut Josh up," said Rhodes.

Cummins and Hathaway say the slurs from the Rhodes' nephew continued online.

A Facebook message from the nephew to Cummins said, "Kick rocks, n*****.  It's a small town... punk... U ain't (expletive)... it far from squashed."

2 Investigates called the nephew and contacted him in person, but he declined to comment.

Threats of Violence?

Cummins and Hathaway say things took a turn for the worse when the Rhodes briefly put up a poster in their pizza shop with a photo of the cow as well as images of Chris Rhodes, before and after the fight.

Cummins says he thinks the poster served as a call to action.

"I think it got serious when I had people come to the gate, identify themselves as white supremacists and then tell me that my family was marked and they were going to bury my children," said Cummins.

The Rhodes insist they never asked customers or friends to act on their behalf.

"They wanted to go get my cow back," said Chris Rhodes.  "We told our friends and stuff around here, we do it by the law."

Yet, during the interview with KTVU's Eric Rasmussen, Tina Rhodes didn't try to hide her anger toward Cummins.

"Daniel, to us, was a straight up cow thief," said Rhodes.  "And cow thieves in Texas used to get hung."

When Rasmussen asked Rhodes what she meant by that comment, she replied, "Well, I didn't want him hung.  I just wanted our cow back."

Ongoing Harassment, Restraining Order Filed

Cummins and Hathaway say harassment of them and their two children continued from strangers.

"I'm the 'wagon burner,' my son's the 'parasite,'" said Hathaway.  "They drive by calling -- my daughter's eight now. It started when she was seven -- and they always drive by calling her a whore."

Letters from a teacher and the principal of their daughter's school acknowledged concerns about unidentified people who would "wait near the school" to bother the girl.

During a civil hearing for a restraining order against Chris Rhodes, another neighbor who says he overheard the initial confrontation between the two families, testified to hearing slurs and threats coming from the Rhodes' nephew.

"Calling the kids little n***** parasites, and saying he's going to bury them," said the neighbor, according to court transcripts obtained by 2 Investigates.

The neighbor also testified to hearing racial slurs and threats from unidentified people who drove past Cummins' property.

"There's people driving by almost every week, a couple of times a week, yelling stuff," the neighbor told the court.

A judge granted the restraining order against Chris Rhodes in July 2014, citing "clear and convincing evidence... based on alleged threats and racial slurs."

No Charges

Cummins and Hathaway say they've made numerous police reports and have even met with Clearlake Police Chief Craig Clausen to talk about the alleged threats.

"That's a case we take very seriously," said Clausen.  "The necessary report was made and sent to the DA's office."

But the report did not include any mention of the alleged threats made against Cummins and Hathaway's children, so Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson's office declined to file charges.  Anderson said he had not seen the sworn civil court testimony from Cummins' other neighbor until 2 Investigates showed it to him.

"This is the first we've heard of the information about burying Daniel's kid," said Anderson.  "That would have been a major issue."

"We would have almost a zero tolerance for any hate crime that occurs in Lake County, but to prosecute, we're going to have to convince 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt that this is a hate crime," said Anderson.

Clausen told 2 Investigates he was also unaware of the neighbor's testimony and that the police case was filed before the civil hearing happened.  He said limited descriptions of some of the suspects hampered the investigation.

"That's part of the issue with this particular case," said Clausen. "We can't identify some of the individuals."

Trouble on the Farm

The Rhodes took Daniel Cummins to small claims court over the cow, which Cummins says he had already given away.  A judge resolved the ownership dispute in the Rhodes' favor and ordered Cummins to pay $350.

Since the dispute, Cummins has also received code violations for having too many animals on his farm and has had to scale back his operation.  He says he believes the complaints about his farm are another form of intimidation by unidentified members of the community.

"They've gone out of their way, above and beyond, to make sure they interfere with every aspect of our life," said Cummins.

The Rhodes remain adamant that Cummins and his family were never targeted for the color of their skin.

"He's the guy -- the boy that cried wolf," said Tina Rhodes.  "(Cummins) makes up all of these allegations and all they are is false."

Seeking a Resolution

Cummins and Hathaway say they've struggled to explain the situation to their children.

"They just don't understand why these people are treating us this way or what it means -- what they're being called," said Hathaway.

Cummins says  he's still considering his legal options, but at least one attorney urges all sides to tone down the rhetoric and try to reach a peaceful resolution on their own.  2 Investigates shared details of the case with longtime civil rights lawyer, Jim Chanin, who called the situation in Clearlake a "metaphor" for racial problems that sometimes happen around the country.

"What do we all do? How are we all going to solve this problem and start talking to each other, so we can settle these things without courts, violence and police?" said Chanin.

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