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South Carolina men accused of targeting Hispanic shoppers indicted on federal hate crime charges

Hate crime reporting to FBI drops
Hate crime reporting to FBI drops despite many incidents last year 05:12

Two men in South Carolina have been indicted on federal hate crime charges in connection with robberies targeting Hispanic customers outside gas stations and a Mexican grocery store.

Charles Antonio Clippard, 26, and Michael Joseph Knox, 28, are accused of forcibly taking cash, cellphones and, in one instance, a car after following shoppers to their homes and holding them at gunpoint in 2021, according to a federal grand jury indictment issued Monday. The Columbia-area men intentionally picked victims they identified as Mexican or Hispanic, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release.

"The indictment alleges that the defendants committed three armed robberies as part of the conspiracy, including one carjacking, because of the victims' race and national origin and because those individuals were using places of public accommodation," the Justice Department said.

South Carolina is one of two states in the country without laws that allow harsher punishments for violent hate crimes. The other is Wyoming. The 2015 racist massacre of nine Black members of the Emanuel AME church in Charleston has fueled the push to add a state-level hate crimes law in South Carolina, but some Republican state senators have repeatedly stalled the proposal.

Clippard and Knox targeted and robbed at least four people, identified in the grand jury indictment as John Doe 1, John Doe 2, John Doe 3 and John Doe 4, although the filing alleges that they also did the same to "others because of their race or national origin, and because the victims had been using a public accommodation." At least one instance, Clippard and Knox's alleged crimes resulted in bodily injury, the indictment said.

The two men were each indicted on three counts of hate crimes, three counts of firearms offenses, one count of carjacking and one count of conspiracy. The firearms offenses call for a minimum of 21 years in prison. Each hate crime charge carries up to 10 years in prison, and the carjacking charge up to 15 years.

The Associated Press left phone messages with the attorneys representing the defendants. Federal investigators in Columbia are looking into the case alongside the Richland County Sheriff's Department and local police.

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