One of the students posted a photo to his private Instagram account in March showing the trio in front of a roadside plaque commemorating the site where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River.
By Jerry Mitchell
Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting / ProPublica (7/30/19)
When the head of the University of Mississippi condemned fraternity members last week for posing with guns in front of a bullet-riddled memorial to the slain 14-year-old civil rights icon Emmett Till, he defended the campus investigation and the decision not to discipline the students.
He said Ole Miss had been unable to identify “all” the students involved when it received the complaint “or that they were all affiliated with the same fraternity.”
But the statement was misleading.
A bias complaint filed in March, and obtained by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, clearly identifies two of the men by name and their membership in Kappa Alpha Order.
The photo “shows three boys, at least two of whom are members of KA at Ole Miss,” the complaint reads.
After we started asking questions, the University of Mississippi interim chancellor acknowledged that a communications “breakdown” stalled a full inquiry into the incident.
On Monday, following questions from the news organizations about the discrepancy, interim Chancellor Larry Sparks acknowledged that his administration had mishandled the investigation and said that he has launched an internal review into a “breakdown in communications” that prevented a full examination of the incident by university administrators.
“Our ongoing review has updated our understanding of some key facts in this process,” Sparks wrote in response to questions from the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.
The bias incident investigation “process has not concluded,” he wrote. “We will proceed accordingly to make all appropriate referrals and assessments.”
The complaint filed in March included a copy of a photo that student Ben LeClere posted on March 1 to his private Instagram account. The image showed LeClere and two fraternity brothers in front of a roadside plaque commemorating the site where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. The 14-year-old black youth was tortured and killed in August 1955. An all-white, all-male jury acquitted two white men charged with Till’s murder. His death helped launch the modern civil rights movement.
LeClere was clutching a shotgun in the photo, and fraternity brother John Lowe was squatting beneath the bullet-pocked sign. A third fraternity member stands on the other side of the sign with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. (The complaint misidentified Lowe as holding the rifle when he was in fact squatting.)
It appears that man is Howell Logan, a Kappa Alpha member who was identified on Twitter and Instagram by former high school classmates from the private Deerfield-Windsor School in Albany, Georgia. Logan was a star athlete there.
Late last week, three social media accounts appearing to belong to Logan were deleted, around the same time as social media accounts bearing the names of LeClere and Lowe were deleted. The image in the Instagram photo is strikingly similar to photos shared by Logan’s former classmates. Logan’s height also appears to match the height of the man seen in the photograph.
Logan did not return requests for comment, and neither did LeClere and Lowe. It is not clear whether the students shot the memorial or were merely posing in front of it.
The Kappa Alpha chapter at Ole Miss suspended the three men in the photo last week after being asked for comment by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.
In his initial statement on Friday, Sparks called the photo “offensive.” The university, he said, had turned over the image to the FBI, which concluded no specific crime had occurred.
Susan Glisson, who ran Ole Miss’ William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation for two decades before retiring in 2016, called the university’s response so far “unconscionable.”
She questioned why Ole Miss officials deferred their own inquiry while awaiting an FBI decision. “Pursuing the possibility of an investigation did not prevent the university from engaging in long-established protocols for how to respond to incidents like this,” she said.