Officials say they mishandled the investigation in Emmett Till photo case
OXFORD, Miss. — The University of Mississippi had communication issues when they started investigating reports of a photo showing students posing with guns in front of a Emmett Till memorial, the interim chancellor says.
Larry D. Sparks, the university’s interim chancellor, said an internal review was launched last week and officials have “discovered a breakdown in communications between units on our campus.”
Three students were suspended last week from the Kappa Alpha fraternity after the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica published a photo of them posing with guns by a sign memorializing Emmett Till.
The sign was placed near the spot where Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River in 1955. The 14-year-old African American was tortured and killed by two white men after accusations that he flirted with a white woman. His death became an important catalyst in the civil rights movement.
The university had said officials learned about the photo in March when they received a report through the school’s bias incident response team.
Sparks said several other departments were notified of the report but they “deferred further action” until they could hear back from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Nearly a month after the initial report, the university police was notified that the FBI determined that the photo did not pose a specific threat.
“Because of a lapse in communication, several units on campus did not learn from UPD about the FBI’s decision,” Sparks said in his statement.
The team that originally received the report had asked police for an update on the FBI’s decision about two weeks prior but did not made another inquiry, Sparks said.
The interim chancellor said the university is still reviewing the original bias report.
“We will proceed accordingly to make all appropriate referrals and assessments,” Sparks said.
Rod Guajardo, the university’s spokesman, had said the incident does not represent a violation of the university’s code of conduct.
“It occurred off campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event,” he said.
Guajardo had said one of the men in the photo was enrolled at the school as a junior and was majoring in managerial finance and said that a second student was not currently enrolled at the school. The status and identity of the third student remain unclear.
The sign memorializing Emmett Till has been vandalized multiple times over the years but it’s unclear whether the students in the photo caused the damage.
The marker was riddled with bullet holes last year, just days after it was installed. The Emmett Till Memorial Commission, the group responsible for the sign, said it will be replaced with a bulletproof version in October.