The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the death of a black man who Mississippi authorities say was intentionally run down by a white teenager in a pickup truck.
Deborah Madden, an FBI spokeswoman in Mississippi, said Wednesday that the bureau is investigating the June 26 death of James Craig Anderson. Madden said the agency wants to “determine whether federal civil rights crimes occurred.”
Anderson’s death flamed anger across the country when a surveillance video was made public of him being run over near a hotel in Jackson. Mississippi was the scene of some of the most shocking violence of the civil rights era.
Deryl Dedmon, who authorities say was driving the green 1998 Ford F-250, is charged with murder. John Aaron Rice is charged with simple assault for allegedly assaulting Anderson before he was killed.
Mississippi authorities say Dedmon and Rice, both 18 at the time, and a group of other teenagers were out looking for a black person to assault when they found Rice just before dawn near a Jackson hotel.
Their attorneys deny they were involved in a racially motivated attack.
Rice had also been charged with murder, but a judge reduced the charge after police testified that he had left the scene in another vehicle before Anderson was run over. Prosecutors said they will still urge a state grand jury to indict both teens for murder.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Schuler Smith did not respond to messages Wednesday seeking comment. Jackson Police Detective Eric Smith, who investigated the case, refused comment Wednesday.
The hotel’s security camera captured video of Anderson being run over. The surveillance video, obtained by The Associated Press and other media, shows a white Jeep in which Rice was allegedly a passenger leaving a hotel parking lot at 5:05 a.m.
Less than 20 seconds later, a Ford truck backs up and then lunges forward. Anderson’s shirt is illuminated in the headlights before he disappears under the vehicle next to the curb. The hotel provided Jackson police with the video, which prosecutors say has been vital in the investigation.
Rice’s attorney, Samuel Martin, suggested during a hearing last month that the teens were on a beer run after a night of partying, not looking for a black man to assault, as prosecutors allege.
Martin suggested during a line of questioning with a police detective that Rice had no knowledge of any plan to indiscriminately attack a black man.
Smith testified during a bond hearing in July that Dedmon had been robbed by a black man in the weeks before Anderson’s death and was looking for “some sort of revenge” when he asked people at a party in Rankin County to go to Jackson in search of someone “to mess with.”
Seven people headed to Jackson in two cars, with Dedmon and Rice in separate vehicles.
The district attorney has said racial slurs were used during the attack and that Dedmon later bragged that he “just ran that n—– over.”
The killing has evoked memories of the state’s racially violent past, including the beating, jailing and killing of civil rights activists in the 1960s.
Dedmon was pulled over on Interstate 20 in Rankin County later that morning. Rice was arrested a few days later. Authorities have not ruled out that others at the scene could be charged.