Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hate crime hoax: The black woman who set herself on fire in October 2012 and reported that she had been the victim of a racially-motivated attack is now facing criminal charges

The 20-year-old black woman, Sharmeka Moffitt, was rushed to the Regional Burn Center at LSU Hospital back on October 21, 2012 after a 911 call brought police to Civitan Park. In the call, Moffitt reported that she had been attacked by three men in white hoodies. State police also later confirmed that "KKK" had been smeared on the hood of Moffitt's car in a paste-like substance, with a racial slur underneath. Moffitt told police that the men doused her in a flammable liquid and set her on fire. Lewis said that she extinguished the fire using water from a nearby spigot before a police officer arrived. Word of the horrific attack spread quickly on social media, with speculation swirling that it was a hate crime that prompted the NAACP to call for a thorough investigation of the incident. Two days later, Winnsboro Police Chief Lester Thomas revealed that their investigation had linked Moffitt's fingerprints to a lighter and a bottle of lighter fluid found at the scene. "The investigation (of) Ms Moffitt has revealed that this was not an attack but a self-inflicted incident that happened to her," said Chief Thomas. Shortly after that announcement, Moffitt's family released a statement, saying, "While this was not the resolution we had expected, it is a resolution, and we appreciate the thorough investigation by the local and state police as well as federal agencies. We are sincerely sorry for any problems this may have caused and wish to express our appreciation for the outpouring of love, prayers and support we have received from friends, acquaintances, church organizations and government officials." Moffitt has since been released from the hospital and returned to Winnsboro. The results of a Louisiana State Police investigation were handed over to the Franklin Parish District Attorney's office in early March 2013. Franklin Parish 5th District Attorney Mack Lancaster has confirmed that his office had filed a bill of information charging Moffitt with one count of terrorizing and one count of false swearing for the purpose of violating public safety. Lancaster says that the quick action of law enforcement kept the impact of her claims to a minimum. "The State Police, the Franklin Parish Sheriff's Office and the Winnsboro Police did a marvelous job of investigating this crime," says Lancaster, "and the labs did a fantastic job of returning DNA and fingerprints very quickly. Thus, they avoided what could have been a very explosive situation." Lancaster also credits the public for allowing law enforcement to do their jobs. "I think her claims were akin to a bomb scare. It just puts the public to be sustained in fear, just a disruption to the general public, what her claims were, and I think the Franklin Parish people deserve a lot of respect for the way they handled this in waiting for law enforcement people to come up with what really happened." Lancaster says that Moffitt isn't a flight risk and won't be required to turn herself in. Bond will be set at her arraignment on April 23, 2013. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years in prison, but probation is also an option.

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