A federal grand jury indicted four white men in a racially motivated attack on an African-American last summer at a bus stop, the first prosecution in the Houston area under a tough hate crime law, the Houston Chronicle reports. The 2009 federal law gives prosecutors expanded authority to go after hate crimes. With a maximum 10-year prison term, the penalties are more severe than state law.
The men are accused of viciously assaulting Yondell Johnson, 29, who was waiting for a bus when they allegedly approached him and asked if he had the time. They quickly began to use racial epithets and pummeled him as he lay on the ground in downtown Houston. They are accused of using the N-word as they beat Johnson. The four were charged under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which gives the FBI authority to investigate violent crime, including violence directed at the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, as well as crimes committed because of gender, race, color, religion or national origin. “It’s not only a significant enhancement of civil rights legislation, it also provided an additional tool for law enforcement to use in investigating civil rights violations or violent crimes that are rooted in hate,” said FBI agent Stephen Morris.