A 32-year-old Oregon man who was arrested after targeting Boise’s LGBTQ+ community has pled guilty to two federal hate crime charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho said in a news release Thursday.
Matthew Lehigh was arrested last year after threatening and attacking multiple individuals who he believed were a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Court records show that on Oct. 8 at the downtown Boise Public Library, Lehigh approached a transgender employee, called her a slur, punched her and threatened to stab her.
When a member of the library’s security staff intervened, Lehigh fled to the parking lot in a car and purposefully accelerated toward the guard. The guard dodged the car by jumping behind a concrete barricade, and Lehigh fled the scene.
Four days after the library incident, the Boise Police Department arrested Lehigh on Oct. 12 after responding to a similar incident on the 1000 block of North Americana Boulevard.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, Lehigh threatened and yelled a homophobic slur at two women who he believed were a part of the LGBTQ+ community. As the women walked toward a vehicle, Lehigh intentionally drove his car at them. The women dodged the vehicle, which struck a different vehicle at significant speed, according to the release.
State prosecutors originally charged Lehigh with three counts of felony aggravated assault, but court records show the state dismissed the charges in January — when he was indicted on federal hate crime charges.
As reported by the Idaho Statesman, local authorities could not pursue Lehigh’s actions as a hate crime because Idaho’s malicious harassment statute does not protect people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Since his indictment, Lehigh has pleaded guilty to charges related to one felony violation of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act for vehicular assault on the library security guard, and a second felony violation of act for the vehicular assault on the two women.
Lehigh faces between 37 and 45 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. The plea deal also requires he pay restitution to all victims and that he remain in care of a clinical psychiatrist upon his release from prison.
As part of his plea agreement, Lehigh also admitted to three other instances of targeting the LGBTQ+ community, including setting fire to a pride flag in the North End, breaking several windows at an LGBTQ+ community center, and punching a grocery store customer after calling him a slur.
U.S. Department of Justice, FBI speak out against Idaho hate crimes
Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said Lehigh targeted strangers for no reason other than his “perceptions of their sexual orientation.”
“No one should live in fear of hate-fueled violence because of who they are,” Clarke said in the press release. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute those who commit heinous acts of hate, and we are committed to protecting the rights of all Americans, including those in the LGBTQI+ community.”
U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho Josh Hurwit said he is grateful for the help of the Boise Police Department and the FBI for investigating the case.
“Everyone, no matter who they are, should be free from senseless violence,” Hurwit said. “And I hope the victims are able to take solace in the fact that the defendant is being held accountable for his hateful and violent acts.”
Luis Quesada, the assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, said hate crimes attacking a person’s identity have a “devastating” impact on families and communities.
“The FBI will not tolerate violence against the LGBTQI+ community,” he said in the release. “We will continue to investigate civil rights violations and do everything we can to keep our communities safe and free from fear.”
The Boise Police Department and the Boise Resident agency of the FBI office in Salt Lake City investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Horwitz for the District of Idaho and Trial Attorney Alec Ward of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case.