Steven Joshua Dinkle, 28, former Exalted Cyclops of the Ozark, Alabama, chapter of the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), was sentenced today by Chief U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins to serve 24 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for his role in a cross burning in 2009, announced the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama.
On Feb. 3, 2014, Dinkle pleaded guilty to hate crime and obstruction of justice charges related to the cross burning. Specifically, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate housing rights, one count of criminal interference with the right to fair housing and two counts of obstruction of justice.
According to documents filed with the court, Dinkle and one of his KKK recruits, Thomas Windell Smith, met at Dinkle’s home on May 8, 2009, and decided to burn a cross in a local African-American neighborhood. Dinkle constructed a wooden cross about six feet tall, wrapped jeans and a towel around it to make it more flammable and loaded it into Smith’s truck. Around 8:00 p.m., Dinkle and Smith drove to the African-American neighborhood in Ozark. Dinkle unloaded the cross at the entrance to the community and dug a hole in the ground. He poured fuel on the cross, stood it up in the hole in view of several houses and set it on fire. Dinkle and Smith then drove away.
During sentencing, Chief U.S. District Judge Watkins said that it was clear that the purpose of Dinkle’s conduct was “to terrorize people in the community” and that his “message was one of intimidation and violence.”
When questioned by local investigators, Dinkle falsely denied his involvement in the incident and said that he had resigned his office and withdrawn from the KKK months before the cross burning. When approached by the FBI, Dinkle again lied and told a special agent that he had been at home with his girlfriend when the cross burning occurred. He further claimed that he did not know a person who was, in fact, one of his superiors in the KKK at the time of the cross burning.
During the plea hearing, Dinkle admitted that in burning the cross, he intended to scare and intimidate residents of the African-American community by threatening the use of force against them. He further admitted that he burned the cross because of the victims’ race and color and because they were occupying homes in that area.
“Defendant Dinkle chose to burn the cross at the very entrance to an African-American neighborhood so that anyone coming or going would see the fiery cross,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “He intended to intimidate the community’s residents in their own homes and neighborhood. There is no place for such conduct in our society and the department will continue to prosecute these violent acts of hate.”
“It is sad that, in this day and age, people are still filled with such hate,” said U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. for the Middle District of Alabama. “To act on such hate and burn a cross turns that hate into a crime which should not, and will not, be tolerated. Prosecuting these type crimes will continue to be a priority of my office.”
Dinkle’s co-conspirator, Smith, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate housing rights in December 2013, and he is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 19, 2014. Dinkle’s mother, Pamela Morris, is charged with two counts of perjury arising out of the investigation into the cross burning. Her trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 4, 2014.
This case was investigated by the FBI with the assistance of the Dale County Sheriff’s Office and the Ozark Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerusha T. Adams of the Middle District of Alabama and Trial Attorney Chiraag Bains of the Civil Rights Division.