South Carolina officials are urging a judge to compel a white couple to relocate from their residence. The couple, Worden Butler and Alexis Hartnett of Conway, allegedly burned a cross near their Black Army veteran neighbors’ home.
Special prosecutor James Battle claimed in a motion filed on January 26 that Butler and Hartnett engaged in harassment, assault, and threats against their neighbors and public areas around their home.
Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson has sought a temporary injunction, aiming to designate the suspects’ home as a public nuisance. Butler, 28, and Hartnett, 27, were arrested on state harassment charges and subsequently released on bond.
The incident occurred when their retired neighbors, Monica and Shawn Williams, recorded a video of a cross being burned near their yard fence during the Thanksgiving weekend.
The Williams, who were celebrating the holidays with family, experienced the attack. According to a police report, Hartnett allegedly used a racist slur against the Williams during a police interview.
Additionally, Butler purportedly posted a picture of the victims’ mailbox with their address on Facebook, accompanied by a statement indicating he was “summoning the devil’s army” and expressing indifference if they both faced consequences, according to the Horry County Police Department.
Although South Carolina does not impose extra penalties for hate crimes, Solicitor Richardson argues that state law permits the closure of public nuisances constituting a “continuous breach of the peace.”
If the requested injunction is granted, Butler and Hartnett could be required to vacate their home for up to one year.
Ms. Williams told WFBM, “It is a start and it sends a message to not just in Conway or anywhere in the South.This behaviour will not be tolerated and everyone has the right to live in peace and harmony with themselves without being targeted because of their skin colour.”
An independent inquiry into the incident has been started by the FBI.
It is anticipated that Mr. Butler and Ms. Harnett will appear in court in March.
According to a 2003 Supreme Court ruling authored by the late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, cross burnings in the US are “symbols of hate” that are “inextricably intertwined with the history of the Ku Klux Klan.”
Because cross-burning “is a particularly virulent form of intimidation,” the judges decided that the First Amendment only permits prohibitions on the practice when they are meant to intimidate.