NAACP calls for federal probe over locker room noose incident

ByJohn Barr ESPN logo
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

WIGGINS, Miss. -- The Mississippi chapter of the NAACP is calling for a federal investigation of a possible hate crime after an African-American football player at a southern Mississippi high school allegedly had a noose placed around his neck and yanked backward by a teammate.

Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi chapter of the civil rights group, told ESPN the incident took place the afternoon of Oct. 13 at Stone County High School.

The alleged victim in the attack, a sophomore member of the football team, was not physically harmed but was "terrified" by the incident, Johnson said.

John Feaster, the first-year head coach for the Stone Tomcats, told ESPN the incident happened inside the football locker room as players were getting ready for practice.

"I reported it to the administration and handled it as swiftly as I could," Feaster said.

"The individual that was responsible hasn't been with our team since the incident. I just want it understood, it could have been the biggest superstar and he would have been gone. I don't care who it is -- if you do something like that, you can't be part of our team," Feaster added.

The alleged victim's father, when reached Monday night by ESPN, declined to comment and said he and his family wish not to be identified.

"We're calling on federal investigators to view this as a racial hate crime. No child should be in fear of going to school. No child should be walking down the hall or in the locker room and be accosted with a noose around their neck. This is 2016, not 1916," Johnson said at a news conference in Wiggins on Monday.

Johnson told ESPN that at least three students, all of them white, were involved in the incident but Feaster, the head coach, disputed those details.

"To my knowledge it was one individual. It was not a group," Feaster said.

Johnson told ESPN the incident was first reported to the Stone County Sheriff's Department by the victim's mother, but that she was discouraged from filing a report.

Stone County Sheriff Mike Farmer had not responded to a request for comment from ESPN.

Johnson called on school officials to expel anybody responsible for the incident and said "these same individuals came to school earlier this year brandishing Confederate flags on their vehicles."

Johnson said the parents of the sophomore who was attacked have not been informed of any punishment for the students involved.

Stone County High School Principal Adam Stone referred comment to Superintendent Inita Owen. She and school board attorney Sean Courtney didn't immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

"Allowing students to commit blatant hate crimes without severe consequences sends a message to students that their safety and well-being are not valuable enough to be protected," the NAACP said in a statement Monday.

Mississippi has struggled with a history of racial division. It is the last state that still incorporates the Confederate battle emblem on its state flag. In 2014, two out-of-state students at the University of Mississippi placed a noose on the campus' statue of James Meredith, the black student who integrated Ole Miss in 1962. Both pleaded guilty to using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students and employees. Neither attends the school anymore.

The names and ages of the students involved in the Stone County incident weren't immediately released.

The African-America student targeted in the attack has returned to school and football practice, according to Feaster.

"It's tough. I feel bad for the kid it happened to. That's where my major concern is," Feaster said.

When asked about frustrations within the African-American community in the predominantly white Stone County, Feaster responded: "Trust me. I understand. I'm an African-American male and I was born and raised in Mississippi. It's sad that something like this happens in 2016. I just pray we can get it together."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.