Charleston, S.C. — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into possible civil rights violations in a racial hazing at The Citadel in Charleston, a newspaper reported Monday. The Greenville (S.C.) News quoted FBI agent Bill Nettles as saying the Civil Rights Division of the United States Justice Department asked the office he heads in Charleston to do a preliminary investigation into an Oct. 23 incident at the state military college. That day five white cadets dressed in white sheets and towels entered the room of a black freshman. They chanted obscenities and left a burned paper cross.
The black cadet, Kevin Nesmith, later resigned from the school, citing continued harassment and distress resulting from the incident. Mr. Nesmith filed a complaint with the Justice Department alleging racial harassment at the college, Mr. Nettles said.
Nettles said his office will submit the findings of its preliminary inquiry to the Justice Department within two weeks. Justice Department officials will decide whether to go ahead with a full-scale investigation.
The purpose of the investigation would be to determine whether to charge the five cadets with denying Nesmith his constitutional rights because of his race, Nettles said. A conviction on that charge carries a penalty of up to a year in prison, he said.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has threatened a suit against The Citadel over 14 alleged civil rights grievances.
The grievances include allegations that the school violated Nesmith's civil rights, restricts freedom of speech and assembly, and has not pursued its desegregation policy vigorously enough, Delbert Woods, president of the NAACP's Charleston branch, said Friday.
Retired Maj. Gen. James A. Grimsley Jr., president of The Citadel, has confined the five cadets to campus for the rest of the year when the college is in session. He also ordered them to march an extra 12 hours a week for the remainder of the school year.
James Clyburn, state human affairs commissioner, said it was the harshest punishment ever imposed by the school for such an incident.
General Grimsley said Sunday that the FBI has contacted the school and said agents might be on campus, but that he knows nothing about an investigation.