A West Hollywood Halloween display showing a likeness of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin hanging by a noose has caused a furor among some residents who reported it as a hate crime, authorities said Monday.
But Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said the mannequin sporting a beehive hairdo, glasses and a red coat does not rise to the level of a hate crime because it was part of a Halloween display.
"I'm not defending this; I'm not criticizing it. It doesn't rise to the level of hate crime," said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, who said he went out to the house himself to look at the display this morning.
"Now, if there was a crime against bad taste . . . "
Sgt. Kristin Aloma of the Sheriff's Department's West Hollywood station said that since Sunday she had received five to 10 calls from residents offended by the display. Officials are monitoring the house to make sure the situation doesn't get out of hand, she said.
West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang said although he recognizes residents' right to free speech, he found the display problematic and felt it should be removed.
"While these residents have the legal right to display Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin in effigy, I strongly oppose political speech that references violence -- real or perceived," Prang said in a statement. "I urge these residents to take down their display and find more constructive ways to express their opinion."
Whitmore said that potential hate crimes are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If the same display had been made of a Barack Obama-like doll, for example, authorities would have to evaluate it independently, Whitmore said.
"That adds a whole other social, historical hate aspect to the display, and that is embedded in the consciousness of the country," he said, adding he's not sure whether it would be a hate crime. "It would be ill-advised of anybody to speculate on that."
ChadMichael Morrisette, who lives in the house, told a local TV news crew that cars and buses have been stopping near his home and that people have been snapping photos of the Halloween display.
The home's decorations also feature a doll of John McCain surrounded by decorative flames in the chimney, and other more typical Halloween items, such as skeletons and spider webs.