Activists demand hate crime probe into Black man’s horrific dragging death
Dragging victim Brandon McClelland Photo courtesy, the McClelland family
PARIS, Texas (FinalCall.com) - When the body of a 24-year-old Black man in Paris, Texas was discovered in the middle of a busy road, law enforcement declared the case a hit and run by an unidentified driver.
Now this small racially-divided town’s worst fears are brewing, with evidence pointing towards two White men who picked up Brandon Clelland in their Dodge truck before he was found mutilated and dismembered in September.
Forensics performed by the Texas Rangers found blood from Mr. McClelland and other DNA evidence on the undercarriage of the truck which has the victim’s family calling the death a “Jasper-style” lynching. The term is a reference to the murder of a Black man in Jasper, Texas in 1998.
“The tied my son to that truck and drugged him until his body parts were detached,” said Jacqueline McClelland, the victim’s mother in an interview with The Final Call. “His body was so destroyed that it could not even be embalmed by the funeral home. This is a hate crime. I don’t want the death penalty for these killers because that would be too quick. I want them to suffer for life in jail without parole since I will never have my son back.”
The family of dragging victim Brandon McClelland wants the case to be declared a hate crime. Photos: Jesse Muhammad
The Lamar County District Attorney has decided race is not a factor in the death of Mr. McClelland because he was friends with alleged assailants Shannon Finley and Charles Ryan Crostley. Both men are 27-years-old.
Angry family members and community activists, however, are demanding a thorough investigation into a possible hate crime they say parallels the lynching of James Byrd Jr., in Jasper, Texas, which is several hours south of Paris.
In 1998, Mr. Byrd was strapped to a pickup truck and dragged to death by three White supremacists eventually convicted of murder. The case spurred massive protests and drew international outcry Paris authorities are trying to stunt but may have a hard time avoiding.
According to a police report, Mr. McClelland was walking in front of the pickup a little after 4 a.m. on Sept. 16 when Mr. Finley and Mr. Crostley allegedly ran him down and dragged him up and down a Lamar County road until his disfigured body popped out from beneath the chassis.
“I don’t see how it was racial, being as how they were good friends,” said Stacy McNeal to the local press. He is the Texas Ranger who is leading the investigation.
“This was not a hit and run. They (Finley’s family) hid the truck and even tried to wash the blood off. The police didn’t even tape off the crime scene and some of my son’s body parts were still lying out there,” said Ms. McClelland, as she wiped away tears.
“If that would have been a White person killed they would have handled this immediately. This is just like Jasper,” she said. Ms. McClelland added that her family was forced to have the funeral quickly due to pressure applied to the funeral home director. The family wanted to delay the funeral to allow for more investigation, she said.
“He (the funeral director) was told by the police to hurry up and put the body in the ground because they didn’t want any trouble coming to this town,” said Ms. McClelland. “They took the life of my only son.”
“I was awakened by our dog barking around 4:25 a.m. but I couldn’t see what occurred because our camper trailer was blocking my view from my back porch. I wish I could have seen more,” said Bobbi Baker. Ms. Baker, who is White, lives with her husband and son a few feet from the crime scene.
“We think this is horrible,” said Jim Baker, who added that eight law enforcement officers live nearby so “things like this hardly happen over here and this was sad.”
Scene of the crime where the dragging death took place in Lamar County.
Mr. Crostley was arrested and is being held in the Lamar County Jail with a bail exceeding $500,000. Mr. Finley has waived his right to extradition from Wichita, Kan., where he was arrested. Both men are charged with murder and tampering with evidence.
Suspects linked to manslaughter conviction
In 2003, Lamar County D.A. Gary Young served as Mr. Finley’s court-appointed defense attorney when Mr. Finley pleaded guilty to manslaughter for shooting a friend to death.
The victim in the Finley manslaughter case was White and Mr. Finely told police he was sitting in a truck with his friend when two Black men tried to rob them. Mr. Finley said he fired at the robbers but accidentally shot his friend.
An autopsy determined the victim suffered three gunshot wounds to the head, but the district attorney at the time accepted Mr. Finley’s story that the shooting was an accident. He was offered a plea bargain on a reduced manslaughter charge and eventually served a little over a year of a four-year prison sentence. The alleged robbers were never found.
Mr. McClelland falsely testified before a grand jury that Mr. Finley was with him at the time of the shooting. For lying under oath, Mr. McClelland was convicted of aggravated perjury and served over two years in prison.
Grassroots groups on the ground
Members of the New Black Panther Party, Houston Millions More Movement and the Nation of Islam conducted a fact finding mission in Paris on Oct. 5 to comfort the grieving family, interview witnesses and plan a massive town hall meeting at the end of the month.
“We want justice for this family and we want these two criminals prosecuted to the fullness of the law,” said Krystal Muhammad of the New Black Panther Party. “We will be monitoring this case closely.”
New Black Panther Party members met with District Attorney Young Oct. 6 and held a press conference downtown. “We are asking for an outside agency to come in and ensure that justice is served,” said party member Derrick Brown.
“This is a hate crime,” said Paris activist Brenda Cherry to The Final Call. Shehas been working with the McClelland family. “This is just like Jasper all over again.”
“This killing does not surprise me and it bears witness to the racism that still exists in Paris and other towns,” Creola Cotton told The Final Call.
Ms. Cotton knows firsthand about Paris’ racial disparities. Last year her then 14-year-old Black daughter, Shaquanda Cotton, was sentenced by a local judge to up to seven years in detention for shoving a hall monitor at her high school. Just three months earlier, the same judge sentenced a 14-year-old White girl to probation after convicting her of torching her family’s house. The case drew national attention and resulted in Shaquanda’s early release.
“Recently after nooses started popping up everywhere, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan warned us that these type of hate filled activities would increase,” said Deric Muhammad of the Millions More Movement, who visited the victim’s family and the crime scene. “That crime scene looked like the aftermath of a bloody lynching. If this is not a hate crime, I don’t know what is.”
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