Graeme Phillip Harris was sentenced Thursday to six months in federal prison and a year of supervised release for helping to hang a noose around the neck of a statue of the University of Mississippi’s first black student.
Harris and others placed the rope and an old version of the Georgia state flag –which includes, prominently, the Confederate battle flag — on the statue in order to intimidate black students and employees at the campus, according to a Justice Department news release.
Harris was indicted by a federal grand jury this spring on one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate black students because of their race.
After the noose was found on the James Meredith statue in February 2014, university officials said they were questioning three white freshmen who were seen and heard shouting racial slurs.
“We greatly appreciate the assistance of the FBI and the U. S. Attorney’s Office in bringing this case to closure,” Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Mississippi said in a statement. “The working relationship between the university and federal authorities very clearly affirms that offensive and illegal acts of this nature will not be tolerated on our campus.”
Harris is no longer enrolled at Ole Miss.
The national leaders of Sigma Phi Epsilon announced that they were closing the Ole Miss chapter after learning three freshman who were members at the time had been involved in desecrating the statue, along with other violations at the chapter including hazing. A SigEp leader did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
Only Harris was named in the case. He pleaded guilty in June to the threats charge.
“Those who would use threats and intimidation to spread fear and hatred through our schools and workplaces should know that the Department of Justice will vigorously prosecute these cases,” Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general, who heads the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.
“No one should have to endure threats or intimidation because of their race or the color of their skin.”
Donald Alway, speical agent in charge from the FBI’s Jackson Division, said in a statement, “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.”
“I’m hopeful that this sentencing will clarify the consequences for anyone contemplating senseless, hurtful actions such as this.”