Hatewatch

Member of Mississippi Gang that Hunted Black People is Sentenced

A sixth man has pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges related to the June 2011 racially motivated killing in Jackson, Miss., of a black man assaulted and run over with a pickup truck by a gang of white youths. That brutal murder was captured on surveillance video and broadcast nationally.

Joseph Paul Dominick, 21, of Brandon, Miss., faces a maximum of five years in prison after pleading guilty yesterday to conspiracy to commit federal hate crimes. He pleaded guilty to a criminal information, waiving grand jury indictment and striking a plea deal with federal prosecutors, just a month after The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson published an editorial blasting the Justice Department for a  “thick cloud of secrecy” surrounding the protracted investigation.

Dominick was part of a gang of white youths, federal authorities now say, who armed themselves with assorted dangerous weapons — beer bottles, slingshots and handguns — and, essentially, made a sport of looking for disabled, homeless or intoxicated African Americans to verbally harass and physically assault. This week’s plea was related to Dominick’s participation in a variety of assaults; he was not involved in the murder that brought the gang national attention.

The case is highly reminiscent of the racially charged 2008 killing of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant slain by a gang of seven Long Island teenagers, most of them white, in Patchogue, N.Y. The youths, who were eventually sentenced to terms of five to 25 years in prison, had been regularly beating Latino immigrants as part of a blood sport they dubbed “beaner-hopping.”

In the Mississippi case, members of the gang of young white men and women for about a year before the murder “would drive around Jackson during the night and early morning hours looking for African American persons to verbally harass and physically assault,” a charging document says. Dominick frequently joined these human hunting expeditions.

On the night of June 25, 2011, however, Dominick stayed behind at a bonfire birthday party for him in Puckett, Miss., while fellow gang members Deryl Paul Dedmon, John Aaron Rice, William Kirk Montgomery, Dylan Wade Butler and three others not publicly identified by investigators drove to Jackson looking for black victims, the document says.

While in Jackson, several of Dominick’s friends, including Rice and Butler, “hurled glass beer bottles at African American pedestrians before they identified as J.A. as a vulnerable target for assault,” the document says. That victim, spotted shortly before dawn in a motel parking lot, was publicly identified as James Craig Anderson, a 49-year-old auto plant worker.

Yelling racial slurs and “white power,” the attackers brutally beat Anderson, and left him lying in the parking lot as one group of the young adults left in an SUV. A second group got into a Ford pickup driven by Dedmon, who ran over Anderson. Prosecutors said that later, in a cell phone call, Dedmon laughed and said, “I ran that nigger over.” Deryl Dedmon’s uncle, Ray Dedmon, later described his slight, blond nephew to The New York Times as “a good boy” from a “happy-go-lucky” family.

CNN obtained and repeatedly broadcast motel surveillance video that showed the truck driving over James Anderson, once again drawing national attention to the problem of serious hate crimes in the Deep South and elsewhere.

Ironically, although the local district attorney clearly described the killing as a hate crime, Mississippi authorities apparently never listed it that way. In the FBI’s recently released hate crime report for 2011, Mississippi is said to have reported no racially motivated hate crimes at all, a virtual impossibility, given the 200,000 or so hate crimes that are estimated to occur nationally every year.

Last month, Jonathan Kyle Gaskamp, 20, of Brandon; and Montgomery, 23, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Jackson to one count of conspiracy to commit a hate crime and one count of committing a hate crime. Their pleas came nine months after Dedmon, Butler and Rice pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges.

While Dominick and Gaskamp weren’t part of the group that came to Jackson the day Anderson was killed, they had been on previous trips to harass African Americans and continued making such forays following Anderson’s death, the Jackson newspaper reported in Thursday’s edition.

The case has sparked some local criticism of officials. In an editorial published on Dec. 6, The Clarion-Ledger said at least two of those involved in the attack on Anderson were believed to be young women but were still not identified. “[T]his is a long time for Anderson’s family and loved ones to wait for justice, especially when you consider that the first suspect, Deryl Dedmon, was arrested just hours after the incident occurred. A second suspect, John Rice, was arrested three days later. The FBI has said that law enforcement has conducted more than 200 interviews regarding this case,” the editorial said.

“What is most confounding is the thick cloud of secrecy behind which this entire investigation and prosecution has taken place,” it added. “We understand the need for sensitive investigations to remain under wraps, but this is one of the oddest we have ever seen. Too, it seems the family is being kept in the dark as well, as every time we talk to them they express their dissatisfaction with the amount of information they are being given,” the editorial said.

It is not clear if other defendants will be charged in federal or state courts.

Sentencing dates are expected later this year for Dominick and the five other defendants. The charge of conspiracy to commit a hate crime carries a maximum penalty of five years. The commission of a hate crime carries a maximum of 10 years unless a death occurred, when the maximum can be life in prison.