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Press Release

Man Pleads Guilty to Civil Rights Charge in Connection with Rope Tied Around Neck of James Meredith Statue on Ole Miss Campus

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department announced that Graeme Phillip Harris pleaded guilty today in federal court to threatening African-American students and employees at the University of Mississippi by helping place a rope around the neck of the James Meredith statue on campus.

According to documents filed in connection with the plea, Harris admitted to joining with others to use the cover of darkness to hang a rope and an outdated version of the Georgia state flag—which prominently depicts the Confederate battle flag—around the neck of the statue, with the intent to threaten and intimidate African-American students and employees at the university.  The iconic statue honors Meredith’s role as the university’s first African-American student after its contentious 1962 integration.  The incident occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, 2014.

Harris was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 27 on one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students because of their race or color.  This plea resolves all charges against Harris in the matter.

“We will not tolerate threats of racial violence intended to intimidate students and university employees,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “No one should have to endure threats or intimidation at our nation’s universities because of their race or the color of their skin.”

“The reprehensible actions of the defendant evoke painful memories of a shameful period in our past when some American citizens were subjected to threats and intimidation by lynching solely because of the color of their skin,” said U.S. Attorney Felicia C. Adams of the Northern District of Mississippi.  “Attempts to categorize the defendant’s offense conduct as a mere college prank only serve as a hollow denial of our collective history and a repudiation of the legacy of those who fought to obtain and preserve our historic civil rights.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the DOJ Civil Rights Division, will aggressively prosecute hate crimes and other civil rights violations which occur in our district.  I sincerely appreciate the assistance of the FBI and the University of Mississippi in the investigation and prosecution of this case.” 

“What these individuals did was not a prank,” said Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway of the FBI Jackson, Mississippi, Division.  “It was an intentional effort to belittle and intimidate persons of a particular race, and was exactly the type of action the federal civil rights statutes were enacted to prevent.  The FBI is committed to the protection of the civil rights of all citizens and will continue to investigate allegations of crime motivated by hate.”

The investigation, which is ongoing, is being conducted by the FBI Jackson Division’s Oxford Resident Agency and the University of Mississippi Police Department.  The case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Mississippi.

Updated May 18, 2016

Hate Crimes
Press Release Number: 15-760