WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that a federal grand jury in Houston has indicted Charles Cannon, 26; Michael McLaughlin, 40; Brian Kerstetter, 32; and Joseph Staggs, 49, on federal hate crime charges related to a racially motivated assault of a 29-year-old African-American man.
Cannon, McLaughlin, Kerstetter and Staggs have been charged with one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that was enacted in October 2009. The indictment alleges that on Aug.13, 2011, the defendants approached and attacked the victim, an African-American male, while he was waiting at a bus stop in downtown Houston. It is alleged that at least one of the defendants used racial slurs and all four defendants surrounded and attacked the victim by punching and kicking him about the face, head and body. Three defendants had tattoos known to reflect an affiliation with white supremacist gangs. All four subjects were arrested at the scene after a 911 call.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
This case is being investigated by the Houston Division of the FBI in cooperation with the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Saeed Mody and Special Litigation Counsel Gerard Hogan of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Assistance was also provided by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.