Georgia student faces civil rights charges from Ole Miss incident

A federal grand jury Friday indicted a Georgia resident on civil rights charges for allegedly placing a noose around the neck of a statue of James Meredith on the campus of the University of Mississippi and draping it with an old version of the Georgia flag.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Alpharetta resident Graeme Phillip Harris’ “engaged in threatening conduct directed at African American students and employees” at the university in Oxford, Miss.

The incident took place in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, 2014. Three Ole Miss freshmen, all from Georgia and all members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, were identified as suspects and kicked out of school, but Harris is the only student charged with the act.

In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder described the vandalism as a “shameful and ignorant act” and “an insult to all Americans.”

“No one should ever be made to feel threatened or intimidated because of what they look like or who they are,” he said. “By taking appropriate action to hold wrongdoers accountable, the Department of Justice is sending a clear message that flagrant infringements of our historic civil rights will not go unnoticed or unpunished.”

While local law enforcement, including university police, were involved in the initial investigation, the FBI picked up the case almost immediately.

Meredith, who became the first black student to attend Ole Miss in 1962, told The Associated Press it is a shame Mississippi had to rely on the federal government to bring charges.

An Ole Miss spokeswoman said Harris withdrew from the university shortly after he was idenitified as a suspect.