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Sigma Phi Epsilon expels 3 students accused in statue vandalism

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OXFORD, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

After learning that three freshmen members of their chapter were responsible for desecrating the James Meredith statue on The University of Mississippi campus, the Mississippi Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity expelled all three men and turned over their identities to university administrators and investigating authorities.

"It is embarrassing that these men had previously identified with our Fraternity," said SigEp's CEO Brian C. Warren Jr. "SigEp as a national Fraternity has championed racial equality and issues on diversity since 1959 when it became the first national fraternity to invite members of all races, creeds and religions to join its membership."

SigEp has indefinitely suspended its University of Mississippi Chapter and asked that the chapter cease all operations. The Fraternity staff is working with chapter and alumni-volunteer leadership to conduct an internal investigation.

Earlier Friday, the University Police Department identified three suspects involved in hanging a noose around the James Meredith statue on campus, but the district attorney says, so far, the act does not appear to be criminal.

According to WMC-TV in Memphis, District Attorney Ben Creekmore said late Friday morning that investigators and prosecutors have looked into several misdemeanors as possible charges, but he said because the statue was not physically damaged, and the suspects did not appear to be trespassing, his office would likely not be in a position to bring criminal charges against the suspects.

He did add that he felt the act was despicable and that federal investigators could opt to bring charges if they saw fit.

Ole Miss can discipline the students if they are found to be involved through the school's judiciary process.

The three 19-year-old white male freshmen from Georgia were declining through their attorneys late Thursday to be questioned by University police regarding the vandalism Sunday morning of the University of Mississippi's James Meredith statue, according to the University Chief of Police, Calvin Sellers.

Sellers said the UPD had gathered enough evidence by late Wednesday to bring charges through the student judicial process against two of the students, and both state and federal authorities were working in close coordination to determine whether criminal charges were applicable.

University police worked through an advisor to the students and arranged a meeting for Thursday morning, Sellers said, but the students did not appear as promised. As UPD were attempting to locate the two students late Thursday, they became aware of an Oxford attorney who was representing one of the students, which then led to information that three students had retained legal counsel.

Two of the students were those being sought by University police, but all three names had been prominent in the investigation, according to Sellers. He said the attorneys declined to make their clients available for questioning without an arrest warrant.

Sellers and University of Mississippi Chief of Staff and General Counsel Lee Tyner said they believe sufficient evidence exists to bring criminal charges against the suspects and pledged to provide whatever support is needed for state and federal authorities to issue warrants and pursue legal measures to the full extent of the law. The student judicial process would call on the students to respond but can proceed without their cooperation, Tyner said. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not permit the university to release the names of the students unless criminal charges are filed.

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