Frat suspended after noose found on statue

NEED TO KNOW
  • Police want to question three Ole Miss freshmen after noose, Confederate flag was placed on James Meredith statue
  • Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity expels 3 students for alleged involvement in vandalism
  • James Meredith was first black student admitted to University of Mississippi
  • The 19-year-old freshmen from Georgia declined to speak with university police, according to Ole Miss
Frat suspended after noose found on statue

The FBI is investigating whether federal laws were broken when a noose and a flag bearing the Confederate symbol were found earlier in the week on a statue of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi campus.

Police want to question three freshmen in connection with the vandalism, but the students, through their attorneys, declined to speak with them. An attorney for one of the students said there is video evidence that shows his client wasn't involved in the vandalism that took place last Sunday.

"He did not touch the statue. He was not near the statue. He didn't have any involvement with putting anything on the statue," said attorney Ken Coghlan.

Sigma Phi Epsilon released a statement Friday saying it has indefinitely suspended its chapter at the University of Mississippi and booted the three freshmen from the fraternity over their alleged involvement in the desecration of the James Meredith statue. In 1962, Meredith was the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi.

The chapter quickly voted to expel all three teens, according to the release, and then turned over their identities to university administrators and investigating authorities.

"It is embarrassing that these men had previously identified with our Fraternity. SigEp as a national Fraternity has championed racial equality and issues on diversity since 1959 when it became the first national fraternity to invite members of all races, creeds and religions to join its membership," said fraternity CEO Brian C. Warren Jr. "For this to occur in 2014 is an insult to the legacy of James Meredith, The University of Mississippi community, and the SigEp alumni who fought for racial equality in the 1950s."

The university said on its website that it believes campus police have enough evidence to bring charges through the student judicial process against two of the 19-year-old men, who are white. None of their names have been released by the university.

The university said it had plans to meet with the three students, who are all from Georgia, on Thursday morning but they failed to show. That's when police learned the students had retained legal council.

Read more: Students outraged after Ole Miss statue defaced

The student judicial process can proceed against the students, regardless of their cooperation, according to university officials who also said they're providing whatever support they can to assist state and federal authorities in pursing their own charges.

Several students past and present have spoken out about the incident, including Michael Oher, whose story inspired the movie "The Blind Side." He took to Twitter Monday and said, "Can't believe they are still doing stuff like that at Ole Miss. Really a shame!!"

Herbert Moore, the current defensive tackle for the university's football team, also expressed his disappointment in a series of tweets Monday night.

"People love trying to bring olemiss [sic] down," Moore tweeted. "But this my university and I still love it anyway... Our past is holding us back from the brightest future."

Shay Hodge, a former wide receiver for the university, told CNN Friday that he wanted to give people a good perspective of what it's like to go to school at Ole Miss.

"Everyone treated me well," Hodge said. "I always felt welcomed. I felt like family there. No one ever said any kind of racist thing to me... Since Ole Miss has a history it's blown out of proportion."

"I'm shocked but not surprised by what happened," Judy Meredith, the widow of the civil rights activist, told CNN by phone Thursday. "I'm surprised something didn't happen to the statue earlier."

The alumni association offered a $25,000 reward, which the university said has been instrumental in generating leads in the case. Anyone with additional information about the incident is encouraged to contact university police at 662-915-7234.

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