A Smyth County man was arrested Friday and charged with lying to federal agents about his involvement in the burning of a cross on the front lawn of an African American woman’s home and criminal interference with fair housing based upon the victim’s race.
James Brown, 40, of Marion was charged in connection with the June 14 incident in Marion, a town in Smyth County in Southwest Virginia. According to an FBI affidavit filed in the case, at approximately 12:55 a.m. an officer with the Marion Police Department responded to an address on Pearl Avenue in response to a possible gunshot.
The officer was flagged down by an African American woman who said someone put a burning cross in her yard. Her son, a juvenile African American male, was an organizer of a civil rights protest held in Marion earlier in the day.
The woman expressed fear and concern for her and her family’s safety, according to the affidavit. The woman’s daughter was afraid to leave the residence due to hearing a bang and because of the burning cross.
A neighbor told authorities they spotted “a white skinny man” walking away from the victims’ home, which the FBI says matches Brown’s description.
In the following days, investigators working with the FBI learned of Brown’s involvement, said authorities. Brown is accused of lying to investigators when questioned if he had anything to do with the cross burning.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia, witnesses interviewed during the investigation stated that Brown admitted to the cross burning and used racial epithets when referring to the African American family.
The FBI, the Marion Police Department and the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Lee is prosecuting the case.
U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen said in a statement, “The frightening act at the center of today’s complaint — a racially motivated cross burning — interfered with the victim’s federally protected right to fair housing.”
He added: “Acts of violence, threats, and other forms of intimidation prompted by racial animus are serious federal crimes, and we will continue to work closely with the FBI to hold offenders accountable.”
Juval Scott, federal public defender for the Western District of Virginia, declined to comment on the charges until more is known about the case. She said Brown is being held in temporary custody and will have a bond hearing on Tuesday.