WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that Sean Popejoy, 19, of Green Forest, Ark., pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of committing a federal hate crime and one count of conspiring to commit a federal hate crime. This is the first conviction for a violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was enacted in October 2009.
Information presented during the plea hearing established that in the early morning hours of June 20, 2010, Popejoy admitted that he was part of a conspiracy to threaten and injure five Hispanic men who had pulled into a gas station parking lot.
The co-conspirators pursued the victims in a truck. When the co-conspirators caught up to the victims, Popejoy leaned outside of the front passenger window and waived a tire wrench at the victims and continued to threaten and hurl racial epithets at the victims.
The co-conspirator rammed into the victims' car, which caused the victims’ car to cross the opposite lane of traffic, go off the road, crash into a tree and ignite. As a result of the co-conspirators’ actions, the victims suffered bodily injury, including one victim who sustained life-threatening injuries.
“James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard were brutally murdered more than a decade ago, and today the first defendant is convicted for a hate crime under the critical new law enacted in their names,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “It is unacceptable that violent acts of hate committed because of someone’s race continue to occur in 2011, and the department will continue to use every available tool to identify and prosecute hate crimes whenever and wherever they occur.
“It is terrible and disturbing that violence motivated by hatred of another’s race continues to occur,” said Conner Eldridge, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. “We are committed to prosecuting such crimes in the Western District of Arkansas.”
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison.
This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Fayetteville Division in cooperation with the Arkansas State Police Department and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Edward Chung of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner for the Western District of Arkansas.
Lamar Advertising donated the billboard space in hopes of generating tips leading to the men who attacked Bay Area resident Bryan Stow. Police said Stow, who was wearing Giants attire, was attacked without provocation by two men wearing Dodgers gear in a stadium parking lot.Lamar spokeswoman Luly Armienta told ABC7 that with the Giants scheduled to play again at Dodger Stadium next week, the company "felt it necessary to remind the public that these assailants are still out there, and if we have the boards available,
She told the station the company would install 200 billboards today, and 100 more by the end of the month.
Stow remains hospitalized at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. His family reported on its website, support4stow.blogspot.com, that Stow has shown signs of improvement in recent days -- enough so that they are considering having him transferred to a hospital closer to home, possibly UC San Francisco Medical Center.
"Bryan is down to six anti-seizure medications," according to a Wednesday post on the family's website. "He has been moving more, which tells us that the sedation is wearing off. He has a lot of eye movement under his eyelids and his mouth is moving more. Could be involuntary ... but we'll take it."
The suspects in the attack were described as between 18 and 25 years old. According to the composite sketches released by police, the two suspects had shaved heads. Both had thin mustaches and one also had a small goatee. The second suspect had numerous tattoos on his neck.
The men approached Stow and began kicking and punching him while yelling profanities about the Giants, police said. Stow fell to the pavement, and the two men repeatedly kicked him in the head.
The attackers fled in a light-colored, four-door car driven by a woman with a young boy inside, authorities said.
When you’ve been a cop in Los Angeles for as long as I have, you can hear even a vague account of a crime and fill in the details yourself. If I hear that a robbery has occurred at the bus stop at Century Boulevard and Broadway at seven in the morning, I know beyond almost any doubt that the victim is a Latino and that the suspects are black. And if I hear that someone has had his head bashed in at Dodger Stadium, I am just as certain that the suspects are young Latino gang members. No one who’s been following the decline of civility at Dodger Stadium was surprised to see the police sketches of the men who attacked Stow.
Civic leaders and the Dodger organization have condemned the attack on Stow (though Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was oddly, even callously silent for days after the crime), and a $150,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the two attackers.
All well and good, but in all the public outcry over what happened to Bryan Stow, there has been precious little said or written about the genuine nature of the problem at Dodger Stadium, which is that Latino gang members have staked out large sections of it as their turf. Just as they have done on the streets of some Los Angeles neighborhoods, they have announced that they are here, they are in charge, and they will tolerate others only up to a point. Woe be to any baseball fan who, like Bryan Stow, dares to wear a cap, jersey, or T-shirt signifying an allegiance to the visiting team. True, attacks such as happened to Stow are rare, but taunts, insults, thrown food, and abusive language are appallingly commonplace.