Lawyer says client wrongly charged in statue incident

Posted on Mar 31 2015 - 8:25am by Kylie McFadden


The former Ole Miss student indicted on charges regarding the desecration of the statue of James Meredith has pleaded not guilty to two charges.

Graeme Phillip Harris, 20, and two others were initially investigated for placing a noose and a former Georgia state flag exhibiting the Confederate stars and bars on the statue of James Meredith, the first black student to attend the university.

The Daily Mississippian broke the news of the statue desecration on Feb. 17, 2014.

A member of the Mississippi Alpha chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, Harris left the university following the incident, and the fraternity chapter was later shut down due to hazing.

Harris is currently free on a $10,000 bond with travel restrictions to northern Georgia and Mississippi for court visits and middle Georgia for school. If convicted, Harris faces a maximum of 11 years in prison.

The investigation is ongoing, and is being investigated by by the FBI’s Jackson, Mississippi, 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.

David Hill, Harris’ lawyer, released a statement Monday regarding his client’s involvement in the incident:

“In the early morning hours of Feb. 16, 2014, three Georgia teenagers, after a night of binge drinking in a university fraternity house, engaged in alcohol-fueled conduct that was foolish, insensitive and offensive. Only one of those teenagers, Graeme Harris, was selected for prosecution and intensive investigation (only he had his cell phone seized, computer seized, vehicle FBI searched, dorm room FBI searched and even his family’s Georgia home FBI searched). The other two have apparently received federal forgiveness for any involvement, or at least after 13 months have not been intensively investigated nor indicted, even though the government has known who they are since about February 18, 2014. The title of the Friday, March 27, 2015, Department of Justice press release proclaimed that the ‘man who tied rope around neck of James Meredith Statue on University of Mississippi Campus’ was ‘indicted on civil rights charges,’ which is patently untrue. Graeme Harris did not tie a rope around the neck of the James Meredith statue, and the student who admitted to that action was not indicted.

“Though Graeme’s presence at such an insensitive event was a serious lack of judgment, he has physically injured no one. He did not intend to threaten, intimidate, or oppress any single individual or group. He did not understand the ramifications of his actions as anything beyond a drunken prank. In order to convict him, the law requires that Graeme have intent to injure, intimidate, oppress or threaten, which he did not. Graeme Harris is not guilty of the government’s criminal charges brought against him, and in spite of the certainty expressed in the DOJ press release on Friday and the multitude of news sources since, the American public should remember that Graeme Harris is only accused and not convicted, and conviction requires evidence, not press releases.”

On Friday, the Department of Justice charged Harris with federal civil rights crimes. Federal officials cited the incident as a blatant attempt to threaten black students and employees on campus.

“This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly-held values,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in the statement Friday.  “No one should ever be made to feel threatened or intimidated because of what they look like or who they are.  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.”

Kylie McFadden