If a white man is attacked and murdered because he was “hanging out” with black friends, should that be investigated as a federal hate crime?
That question looms in Louisiana after 24-year-old Michael Luke “Boulon” Darby was fatally stabbed earlier this month outside a bar in Lafayette, where he had gone with two friends who are African-American.
After leaving the pub on Jefferson Street in the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct. 14, Darby and his two friends were confronted and harassed “by three white guys, who were apparently drunk,” the Eunice News reported. The three men shouted “racial slurs” at Darby, “questioning why he was hanging out with his two black companions,” the newspaper reported.
Darby allegedly “charged one of the three” white men and, when a scuffle ensued, his black friends broke up the fight, the newspaper reported. A few minutes later, Darby was “involved in another altercation” with one of the three white men before telling his two companions to get their vehicle and meet him at a nearby street corner, the newspaper reported. When his friends returned, however, Darby was nowhere to be seen, and they couldn’t find him by driving around the area.
Darby’s body was found during the noon hour on Oct. 15 behind some bushes several blocks from where the initial confrontation occurred. An autopsy determined he died from stab wounds.
Video surveillance footage and witness information led investigators to identify two suspects in the case, authorities say. Kyle James Toups, 24, of Carencro, La., was arrested without incident on Oct. 16 in Newton County, Texas, by agents assigned to the U.S. Marshal’s Violent Offenders Task Force. He is currently being held only on a state charge of second-degree murder. His brother, Travis Toups, 35, of Carencro, La., was arrested Oct. 17 on a charge of accessory to second-degree murder. He has been released on bail, authorities said.
“There’s no doubt this was a racial crime, and there’s no reason why my son should have been murdered because of his friendships,” the victim’s father, Jerry Darby, told Hatewatch yesterday when reached at the family home in Eunice, where he lives with his wife, Linda. Michael, the couple’s only child, was buried following a standing-room-only funeral in his hometown last Friday, Jerry Darby said.
“My son was loved by everybody, and never caused nobody any trouble,” the grieving father said.
Michael Darby was a 2006 graduate of Eunice High School who played football and baseball and ran in track events. Since completing two years at a technical college, he had been steadily employed as an electrician for an offshore drilling company.
After the funeral, his former football teammates permanently retired Darby’s No. 20 high school sports jersey and put “No. 20” stickers on their helmets for the homecoming football game, the victim’s father said.
“These men belittled him and made fun of him because he was hanging out with his two friends who happen to be black,” Jerry Darby said. “To me, yes, that’s a hate crime. There’s no reason you should do that to anybody. We are not animals.”
“We’re Cajun people down here and we’ll give you the shirts off our backs,” added the elder Darby, who is a line crew foreman for a Louisiana power company. “My son was that way, too, and he was no person who started trouble. Color don’t come in our way of thinking. We’re Christian people, not racially involved against anybody.”
Varden Guillory Sr., the deputy police chief in Eunice told Hatewatch he casually knew Michael Darby, had talked with him on a few occasions and described him as being “well-liked.”
“He would just get along with everybody,” said the deputy police chief in the community of 12,000. “This thing, it’s like senseless. There’s no reason to kill somebody just because they’re hanging with friends of a different race.”
The office of Stephanie Finley, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, did not immediately return a call inquiring whether federal authorities would investigate the homicide as a possible hate crime.
However, FBI spokesman Kyle Hanrahan, in New Orleans, said the facts of the case, as described to him, do appear to establish jurisdiction for a federal investigation.
“This would constitute a hate crime,” Hanrahan told Hatewatch. “We are aware of the incident and evaluating whether to initiate a federal investigation. In light of the state charges that have been filed, we don’t necessarily always initiate an investigation where we have jurisdiction if we feel that the matter is being adequately addressed in the state criminal justice system.”
Cpl. Paul L. Mouton, the public information officer for the Lafayette Police Department, told Hatewatch he doesn’t believe the homicide was a hate crime. “In talking with investigators, no, it’s not a hate crime,” Mouton said. “This isn’t being looked at like a hate crime.”
The Lafayette police official said a knife that is the suspected murder weapon has been recovered, but he wouldn’t provide details. Mouton also confirmed that investigators have obtained and examined surveillance footage from several downtown Lafayette businesses as part of the investigation. Investigators have located and questioned several witnesses, and no longer are seeking the third man involved in the initial confrontation with Darby, Mouton said.