Feds indict teen over threatening noose

January 24, 2008 7:02:29 PM PST
A white man accused of driving past a group of black civil rights activists with two nooses dangling from the back of his pickup truck has been indicted on federal hate crime and conspiracy charges, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Jeremiah Munsen, 18, was arrested in September after driving past a crowd of people who had attended a civil rights march in Jena, about 40 miles northeast of Alexandria, police have said. The Jena march drew an estimated 20,000 protesters, and many stayed in the towns and cities surrounding the tiny town, including Alexandria.

The indictment accuses Munsen of conspiring to threaten and intimidate the marchers and with having committed a federal hate crime.

"It is a violation of federal law to intimidate, oppress, injure or threaten people because of their race and because those people are exercising and enjoying rights guaranteed and protected by the laws and Constitution of the United States," said Donald W. Washington, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana.

Munsen was initially booked on state charges of inciting a riot, driving while intoxicated and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, a 16-year-old boy who was with him. The boy has not been charged in the case.

Activists attended the Sept. 20 rally in Jena to protest what they believed to be the unfair treatment of six black students charged with beating a white student at Jena High School. The beating came months after three other white students were suspended, but not criminally charged, for hanging nooses in a tree at the school.

Five of the black students were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder. The charges have been reduced. One of them, Mychal Bell, pleaded guilty in December to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery. The sixth student was charged as a juvenile and those records are sealed.

There was no listing in the Munsen in the Colfax, La., phone directory. The U.S. attorneys office could not immediately say if Munsen had an attorney.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped organize the march, said in a statement Thursday that the indictment is a step in the right direction.

"I hope this is a signal that the Justice Department will now take hangman's nooses and hate crimes more seriously," Sharpton's statement read.