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Racially motivated assault on black teens in Vandergrift draws work release sentence

Chuck Biedka
| Thursday, June 5, 2014, 7:17 a.m.
Jesse James Hynes
Jesse James Hynes

A Jeannette man is starting a nine- to 23-month term in the Westmoreland County jail for attacking a black man and a black youth on separate occasions about 15 months ago in Vandergrift.

Jesse James Hynes, 33, of 700 Magee Ave. pleaded guilty in Westmoreland County Court on Tuesday to simple assault, ethnic intimidation, and threatening a police officer who arrested Hynes. Hynes is white.

While imposing the jail time, President Judge Richard C. McCormick Jr. called the acts “despicable.”

According to police, on the afternoon of Feb. 10, 2013, a group of teenagers were fighting in the area of 402 Franklin Ave. near St. Gertrude Roman Catholic Church in Vandergrift.

Police said Hynes later came up behind a 17-year-old black youth and “swept the victim's legs from under him.”

The larger Hynes knocked the youth to the ground and threatened him in comments laced with racial slurs.

Later, an 18-year-old black man was walking along the same block with two young white women.Hynes attacked that man from behind, knocked him to the ground and pummeled him while screaming racial slurs at him.

According to an affidavit, Hynes threatened to shoot the man.

Police said the victims reported the incidents separately to police and showed them their injuries.

An informant told police that the attacker appeared to be Hynes, who was known to frequent the North Vandergrift section of Parks Township.

Some time later, Parks police responded to a fight in the 1200 block of North Lincoln Street in North Vandergrift. It's unclear in an affidavit whether the people fighting were of the same or different races.

By then, the Parks officer knew that Vandergrift police were looking for a suspect in the earlier assault. Hynes, one of the men fighting on North Lincoln Street, matched that assailant's description, police said.

Hynes was arrested and taken to a holding cell at the Vandergrift Police Department.

An affidavit said that's when Hynes threatened the officer by saying he “wasn't one of the Vandergrift punks” and to “wait until the (hand)cuffs come off.”

At his sentencing in the Westmoreland Courthouse in Greensburg, Hynes apologized to his victims and other blacks.

“I have learned to change my behavior. And alcohol played a role in my behavior,” he said quietly.

A visibly disgusted Judge McCormick told Hynes, “It was a despicable thing to do. You chose your victims based on ethnic or racial background only. It's inhuman.”

McCormick gave Hynes credit for jail time served and is allowing him to take part in a work-release program so he can support his family.

The judge ordered Hynes to undergo drug and alcohol and mental health evaluations and attend anger management counseling.

“You need to learn if some of your issues are mental health issues. You do have an anger problem,” the judge said.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or

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