The investigation into hate-filled notes that were left on a Patchogue church altar and suspected at first of being an anti-Hispanic bias attack took a different turn Saturday with the arrest of a Hispanic man who once wanted to worship there.
Suffolk County Police say Christhian Munguia Garcia was linked to the letters after being chased down and arrested Friday night as part of a group that had hurled a wooden log and a glass bottle at churchgoers leaving the building. No one was hit in that incident at the church, located at 102 Railroad Ave.
At his arraignment Saturday, Munguia Garcia, 25, was ordered held on $7,500 bail stemming from a host of charges including attempted assault as a hate crime. No one else has been arrested in the case, police said.
Suffolk police defended charging Munguia Garcia with a hate crime.
"It was not a hate crime targeting ethnicity," said police spokesman Tim Motz. "It was a hate crime targeting religious practice."
In a statement to police, Munguia Garcia, of Norton Street, accused the Iglesia Evangelica Refugio de Salvacion of exerting undue pressure on churchgoers for cash - an accusation church leaders adamantly deny.
"I hate the church," Munguia Garcia wrote.
He added: "I want everyone to know that the church is only after their money and that they should all leave the church and just read the Bible."
Longtime church member Juan Alfaro said Munguia Garcia was only at the church once - last weekend, when he came to services drunk and began disturbing the service by cursing and taking his shirt off.
Alfaro said he was among several others who kicked him out. Munguia Garcia said in his statement to police that he tried to join the church in October of last year but had been rebuffed because he wouldn't give enough of a donation. The church denies his contention.
Munguia Garcia also is charged with criminal trespass, aggravated harassment and damage to religious premises worth more than $50 in connection with forced entry into the church and the notes found Tuesday night on the church altar. The notes included one that said, "Hispanics don't rule, whites do."
At the arraignment Saturday, Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth L. Miller said Munguia Garcia and three others were upset with the church and on Tuesday sometime between 6 and 6:45 a.m. threw rocks, bottles and cinder blocks, breaking a church window worth $240.
But a Legal Aid attorney who represented the defendant at arraignment pointed out to Judge William Ford that it wasn't clear that her client was the one who entered the church and left the notes. In his statement to police, the defendant acknowledged being only in the parking lot.
With Lauren Cioffi