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FBI, UM student affairs honor UPD officers for effort in investigation of statue vandalism

BY EDWIN SMITH

University of Mississippi

Three University of Mississippi police officers were honored Wednesday for their involvement in the investigation of vandalism to the James Meredith statue on campus last year.

During a brief ceremony on the back porch of the Lyceum, just feet from the statue, Bryan McCloskey, senior supervisory resident agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Jackson division, presented UPD Capt. Jane Tutor, Lt. Jeremy Cook and Sgt. Shayla McGuire with personalized certificates from FBI Director James B. Comey, commending them for their cooperation and diligence in the probe.

Brandi Hephner Labanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs, also presented the three with 1848 employee lapel pins and bookends made from wood reclaimed from the Grove. About 70 UM administrators, faculty, staff and students attended the afternoon event.

UPD’s combined detective skills helped federal law enforcement officials arrest three former UM students as suspects in the February 2014 incident.

“This was a major investigation for us and nothing less than a hate crime,” McCloskey said. “The FBI wouldn’t have successfully solved the case and been able to bring prosecution without UPD’s collaborative efforts. Hopefully, because of this stance, reprehensible incidents like this won’t happen here again.”

Each of the UPD officers expressed humility and appreciation at the recognition.

“We spent countless hours staying abreast of this case,” said Tutor, a Toccopola native who became UPD’s first female detective in July 2003. “I hope that all UM students realize that we always put their safety first.”

Cook, an Oxford native and 2008 UM graduate who joined the force a year later, agreed.

“Being rewarded for the hard work we do every day is something special,” he said. “We care about everybody.”

“Our team takes great pride in having helped solve this particular case, but all cases, whether misdemeanors or felonies, are equally important to us,” said McGuire, also an Oxford native. “Still, I think it’s pretty cool to be recognized, even though we don’t do it for that reason at all.”

UPD Chief Tim Potts, who oversaw the program, said it is fitting that campus law enforcement officials be honored for contributing to the investigation.

“Under the leadership of former UPD Chief Calvin Sellers, our department was involved in the investigation of this reprehensible incident from beginning to end,” Potts said. “They each did their jobs and did them well. They deserve this recognition and I’m proud of them.”

The incident’s horrible message of hatred, rejection and fear was countered positively by UPD’s efforts to solve the case and ensure the campus remains a safe place for all members of its community, Hephner Labanc said.

“Justice has been served, members of our minority community have been supported and civil rights have been validated,” she said. “This is community. This is Ole Miss.”

Former UM student Graeme Phillip Harris of Alphraetta, Georgia, admitted to helping two others place a noose and a former version of the Georgia state flag on the statue sometime before dawn on Feb. 16, 2014. U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills sentenced Harris in September to six months in prison beginning Jan. 4, followed by 12 months of supervised release.

Harris pleaded guilty in June to a misdemeanor charge of using a threat of force to intimidate black students and employees, and prosecutors agreed to drop a felony charge. Harris admitted to undertaking the plan after a night of drinking in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house. The then-freshmen were fraternity members at the time.

The fraternity voted to remove the men from the organization. The chapter was subsequently removed from campus after an investigation sparked by the incident revealed it was involved in hazing.

Austin Reed Edenfield of Georgia, who also allegedly took part in the vandalism, had been scheduled to plead guilty to an unspecified crime last month, but that hearing was postponed without explanation in court papers.

A third unnamed former UM student alleged to have participated in the act has not been charged. Prosecutors said the investigation is ongoing.

Meredith integrated Ole Miss amid rioting that was suppressed by federal troops in 1962.