Man apologizes for vandalizing Chandler family's menorah

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(Source: Naomi Ellis) (Source: Naomi Ellis)
Clive Jamar Wilson was arrested on March 17, 2017 (Source: Chandler Police Department) Clive Jamar Wilson was arrested on March 17, 2017 (Source: Chandler Police Department)
CJ Wilson's Facebook post apologizing to the Ellis family (Click to enlarge) (Source: Facebook) CJ Wilson's Facebook post apologizing to the Ellis family (Click to enlarge) (Source: Facebook)
Comments to Wilson's Facebook apology (Click to enlarge) (Source: Facebook) Comments to Wilson's Facebook apology (Click to enlarge) (Source: Facebook)

One of the four young men arrested for vandalizing a family’s menorah in December took to Facebook over the weekend to post an apology.

Clive Jamar Wilson, who goes by CJ, is the oldest for the four. He is 19. The other three are juvenile boys.

Chandler Police spokesman Sgt. Daniel Mejia said all four are facing felony charges of criminal damage and trespassing in connection with what Wilson described in his Facebook post as “insensitive prank.”

Seth Ellis built a menorah decoration for his family’s front yard after his sons – ages 5, 7 and 9– asked for holiday lights to celebrate the season.

It was near the end of Hanukkah that the Ellis family woke to find that their holiday decoration had been twisted into a swastika, the universal symbol of hate.

[ORIGNIAL STORY: Community supports family whose menorah was found twisted into swastika (Dec. 30, 2016)]

“We live in a great neighborhood with kind and welcoming neighbors,” Naomi Ellis, Seth’s wife, said at the time. “We never would have imagined that someone would spread so much hate here.”

She called the vandalism a “horrible act of aggression.”

The Chandler community rallied around the Ellis family and while it could not erase what happened, the support lifted their spirits.

Ellis rebuilt the menorah and, in a ceremony led by the family’s rabbi, relit it. Many of the family’s neighbors were there.

It took nearly three months, but police finally arrested those believed to be behind the ugly act on Friday. Mejia did not say what led investigators to Wilson and the others.

[READ: Chandler police arrest 4 in Menorah vandalism hate crime]

On Sunday, Wilson posted an apology to the Ellis family, although he did not refer to them by name, on his Facebook page.

“I am writing this post to say I am truly sorry for the insensitive prank which my friends and I participated in during the holiday season last December. What we did was reckless, stupid, idiotic, and insensitive. From the bottom of my heart I apologize to your family,” Wilson said.

Wilson went on to explain that he was raised to “embrace diversity and cultural differences” and since the prank, has “become much more aware of the Jewish culture” and has “a better understanding of the Menorah and what it means.”

He closed with a request of the Ellis family.

“To the family affected by the horrible prank I once again express regret and ask you to forgive me. I ask you for a second chance and for the opportunity to complete my college education and get a chance to live a better life and be a good citizen,” Wilson said.

The Ellis family released a statement saying: 

“We are relieved that the Chandler Police Department has identified suspects in the defacement of our family’s menorah, and want to thank them once again for all their diligence and hard work in this investigation.

This morning we read Mr. Wilson's apology letter on Facebook. We believe that he is sincerely sorry for his reckless actions. It is encouraging to know that he is taking the initiative to learn more about Jewish history and culture. It is our hope that he will continue to learn the importance of tolerance and respect for diversity.  We will continue to rely on the judicial system and on the Chandler Police department to follow the next steps in the process.” 

Comments to Wilson’s post have been mixed, some praising him for “coming clean” and “taking responsibility” and others urging him to offer “restitution of some sort” and figuring out a way “to make it right.”

“It would have been more sincere had he come forward and confessed before being arrested,” one person said.

Carlos Galindo-Elvira, Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League says the apology appears sincere. 

"To have the opportunity to read the words of someone who is repentant, who is seeking forgiveness and who generally wants to apologize earnestly to this family that was impacted by it is refreshing," said Galindo-Elvira. "What we always hope at the end is there will be a change of heart and mind, and maybe the end result for this young man will be an education about what his action meant to the family it impacted and to the greater Jewish community."

But his apology does not erase the alleged crime. 

Depending on the felony classification, the punishment for criminal damage for a first-time offender ranges from 0.33 years in prison (class 6 mitigated) to 3.75 years (class 4 aggravated).

According to Arizona law, “Entering or remaining unlawfully on the property of another and burning, defacing, mutilating or otherwise desecrating a religious symbol or other religious property of another without the express permission of the owner of the property,” is considered criminal trespass in the first degree. That is a class 5 felony that carries a presumptive prison sentence of between 0.5 years and 2.5 years.

[Arizona Revised Statutes: §13-702. First time felony offenders; sentencing; definition | §13-1504. Criminal trespass in the first degree; classification§13-1602. Criminal damage; classification

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