Racial taunts cost Spring Branch man
By John MacCormack
Dead raccoons dumped in the driveway, vulgar racist signs hung from trees, reckless shotgun blasts, a monkey doll hanging from a gate, and a tractor repeatedly blocking the passage of a special education school bus.
These were just some of the extreme measures Danny Eldridge used to try and drive his new neighbors out of the Flying R Ranch, a private development in Comal County, according to Michael and Leanna Risenmay.
A federal civil rights suit, filed by the Risenmays in San Antonio, asserts that Eldridge’s actions were driven by racial hatred toward Mrs. Risenmay, who is Jewish, and the couple’s nine adopted black children.
“He is an admirer of the Ku Klux Klan and embraces their values of discrimination against people they consider inferior, including those they believe to be black, Jewish or have disabilities,” reads the lawsuit.
On Monday, with a fall trial date approaching, Eldridge, 64, agreed in a settlement to cease all hostile actions toward the family and to pay damages.
“There is a binding contract, signed by Mr. Eldridge, and if he were to break it, we could bring the full force of the law upon him,” said Wayne Krause Yang, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
“While the exact sum is confidential, Mr. Eldridge paid quite enough to ensure he has learned a very expensive lesson,” Krause Yang said.
A person who answered the telephone at Eldridge’s home Thursday afternoon said he would have no comment. His lawyer, Roy Barrera III, did not return a call.
Michael Risenmay said Thursday that the settlement brings relief but not peace of mind.
“There’s still a little anxiety by the wife and kids. He still lives across the street,” he said of Eldridge. “Even though we have a legal document that gives us more teeth than we had before, there is uncertainty.”
Earlier, the Flying R Ranch Property Owner’s Association, of which Eldridge was a director, was dropped as a defendant after a settlement was reached, Krause Yang said.
According to the suit, the hostility toward the family began shortly after they moved into the rental home near Spring Branch in 2009, but it accelerated last year, particularly after the special education bus began coming into the development to pick up the Risenmays’ children.
Eldridge began using his tractor to block the bus on the narrow road. He hung a large racist sign where the children could see it and disregarded police orders that he cease, the suit claims.
Only when the suit was filed last fall, followed by a restraining order, did the overt hostility abate, according to Michael Risenmay.
He said that, despite the legal settlement, it might be a while before the family feels secure.
“We’ll see how the kids respond. They’re scared to be home when I’m not there, and our youngest son has to sleep in someone else’s bedroom because he’s scared to be alone,” he said.
“We’ll have to see how long it takes to overcome this.”