Less than an hour before he was accused of attacking a foreign exchange student with a hatchet, police were looking for Dana Ericson.
At 2:11 p.m. Feb. 18, his doctor’s office called the Brown County Sheriff’s Department requesting a welfare check because he had missed his appointment the previous week, said Greg Pittman, public information officer for the sheriff’s department.
Deputy Bill Southerland responded to the call but told dispatch he couldn’t find Ericson at home on Whippoorwill Lane. He told dispatch he saw the 59-year-old walking south on State Road 135 North earlier that day, Pittman said.
At 2:45 p.m., Ericson was found at the corner of Gould and State Road 135 North/Van Buren Street. Deputy Mike Moore identified him immediately, speaking over police radio.
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Ericson told Moore that he attacked 18-year-old Brown County High School foreign exchange student Zhang “Z” Yue because she is Asian. He said he was attempting “ethnic cleansing” and called himself a white supremacist.
Yue, a Chinese exchange student, was downtown taking pictures for a high school photography class.
She was treated at Columbus Regional Hospital for a wound that hit close to her spinal column, Moore’s report said. He said the heavy coat she was wearing likely weakened the blow. She was released to her host family later that night.
Ericson was charged Feb. 22 with attempted murder, a Level 1 felony; aggravated battery, a Level 3 felony; and battery causing serious injury, a Level 5 felony.
A Level 1 felony carries a sentence range of 20 to 40 years.
When asked if he understood the charges, Ericson, appearing by videoconference, responded, “I understand this nonsense.”
He laughed off and on while Judge Judith A. Stewart read him his rights, pausing on occasion to hold his head in his palm or look at his fingers.
Bail at was set at $500,000.
Stewart approved a protective order for the victim and her host family.
Familiar with suspect
Police were called about Ericson nine times in February. Most were for welfare checks. His 98-year-old mother — who no longer lives with Ericson — or others who know him would ask police to check on him. One call was for a report of loud music coming from his home and Ericson standing on the porch screaming profanities. Another was a report of a man walking north on 135 in a suit, hat and trenchcoat, flipping drivers off. It was Ericson.“With responding to his calls and residence, there might be months go by where we have nothing and then we would have an increase. It would just vary,” Pittman said.
“It wasn’t all the time.”
Pittman himself responded at least once in February. He said there was no indication that Ericson was a danger to himself or others. “I don’t think anybody else (thought he was dangerous), either.”
“Nothing like this had ever happened before,” he said.
If a person is on his own property, there isn’t much law enforcement can do.
“Unless they’re breaking the law or they are a danger to themselves or someone else, we can’t do anything,” he said.
If that danger is present, the officer can commit the person to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, or place the person in a 24-hour detention to await an evaluation if they refuse to go, Pittman said.
The judge has asked for Ericson be evaluated to determine his competency to stand trial.
At his Feb. 19 hearing, he denied his right to an attorney, but Stewart appointed public defender Jacob Moore in case he changed his mind.
Ericson has a history of violent crime and has spent time in psychiatric hospitals, according to online court records.
Most recently, he was found guilty of criminal confinement and disorderly conduct in December 2008.
A condition of his probation was to be respectful to his probation officer and staff and comply with recommendations of his mental health treatment providers.
That case stretched until May 2010 with multiple court date changes, some because Ericson was hospitalized.
Other cases were dismissed after the court received the results of Ericson’s psychological and sanity evaluations.
In June 2007, he was charged with battery resulting in bodily injury and resisting law enforcement.
In 2003, he was charged with multiple counts of intimidation, harassment and battery in two separate cases.
Bill Todd and another member of Nashville United Church attended Ericson’s Feb. 22 hearing.Todd knows him through Green Room discussions, a church group that Ericson and his mother attended.“I have experienced his extreme brightness. He’s extremely intelligent in the way he discusses things and views things and how he expresses himself,” Todd said.
“I have also seen where he advocates for world peace. He’s talked about that. He talked about wanting the world to be better.”
Todd described Ericson as a kind man who loved and cared for his mother. He said violent behavior is out of character.
“The fact he didn’t have his medicine was very important to this,” Todd said, declining to elaborate on why Ericson needed medicine or why he did not have access to it.
“For the sake of the community, had the system worked better, the community would have been protected in a better way,” Todd said.
Two days after the attack, Yue — known as “Z” — was feeling well enough to attend a basketball game at Brown County High School.
Earlier that Saturday, Brown Countians met on the Brown County Courthouse lawn, about a block from where Z was attacked, for “Sending love to Z,” a time of music and reflection.
Near the circle of musicians playing bluegrass, local chiropractor Timothy Barr held a sign with a Chinese symbol which he said communicated good will.
“We just want to send a good message to this young lady and tell her she is loved,” he said.
Principal Shane Killinger said Z had been attending school half-days last week.
“She seems to be doing great for what she went through,” he said. “Her biggest goal is to get back to normal.”
Dana Ericson could be facing life in prison.
Prosecutor Ted Adams said the FBI has opened a civil rights case related to the assault of Zhang “Z” Yue.
Ericson told police he attacked the Chinese foreign exchange student because she is Asian.
Indiana is one of the few states that do not recognize or classify acts as hate crimes for criminal or sentence enhancement purposes. But federal statutes do.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole, or in part, by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”
If a federal indictment is obtained, “the Brown County Prosecutor’s Office would likely dismiss to prevent double jeopardy issues,” Adams said in a news release. “The matter would move forward in federal court at that time and the defendant would be transferred into federal custody.”
The maximum sentence on an attempted murder conviction in Indiana is 40 years.
The maximum sentence for attempted murder with a hate crime component under federal law is life in prison.