A former University of Mississippi student was indicted Friday on federal civil rights charges for allegedly hanging a rope and a flag featuring the Confederate battle flag around the neck of a statue of James Meredith, the university’s first black student.
Graeme Phillip Harris was indicted by a grand jury on a charge of conspiracy to violate civil rights and using a threat of force to intimidate African American students because of their race or color, the Department of Justice said.
The rope and an old version of the Georgia state flag, which displays the crossed bars and stars used as a battle flag by the South during the Civil War, was placed around the neck of the statue in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, 2014. Meredith was the first black student after the university was desegregated in 1962.
"This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly-held values," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "No one should ever be made to feel threatened or intimidated because of what they look like or who they are."
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A spokesman for the university said Harris withdrew from Ole Miss in the spring of 2014, not long after the incident.
There were others involved, the Department of Justice said. Three members of the University of Mississippi Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter were thought to have hanged the rope and flag around the statue.
They have never been named, but the national fraternity suspended the chapter and expelled the three members from the organization a week after the incident. Sigma Phi Epsilon CEO Brian C. Warren Jr. said it was "embarrassing" that they were members.
The Department of Justice said the investigation is ongoing.
University of Mississippi Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc said the situation is regrettable for all involved, including the former student who was charged.
"I can't help but feel the pain of the student and the parents who will now feel the full weight of our justice system, but also feel the pain of our campus community and the entire Ole Miss family, which suffered greatly from the terrible act committed a year ago," she said. "We're hopeful that this indictment will begin to bring closure and the next step in healing for our university."
— Phil Helsel