University of Kentucky police announced the arrest of a UK student and his friend Thursday in connection with the hanging of an effigy of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama from a tree on campus Wednesday.
Interim UK police chief Joe Monroe said police received a series of tips throughout the day Wednesday that eventually led them to the two men. The men told police that the act was a stunt in response to news reports that an effigy of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was hung at a West Hollywood, Calif., home.
Joe Fischer, 22, a UK senior and a former football team walk-on, and a friend, Hunter Bush, 21, of Lexington were charged Thursday with burglary in the second degree, a felony; and theft by unlawful taking and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors. The disorderly conduct charge was made for the hanging of the effigy.
According to the 2007-2008 UK football roster, Fischer is from Latonia, outside of Cincinnati. Court documents list a Lexington address for him.
The two were being held at the Fayette County Detention Center Thursday.
Fischer and Bush turned themselves in to university police Thursday afternoon.
Material used to make the effigy, including clothes, was stolen from a fraternity house, and it was through the fraternity that they were able to track down Fischer and Bush, Monroe said.
Both Fischer and Bush gave statements to University of Kentucky Police detectives admitting responsibility, according to Fayette District Court records. Between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Bush and Fischer entered the Farmhouse Fraternity at 420 Hilltop Avenue. Inside, they took a black sports jacket and khaki pants. From a shed on the property, Fischer also took an 8-foot ladder, according to court records. Statements provided by residents of the fraternity house also placed Fischer at the scene, according to a criminal complaint.
Then, the two hung the doll resembling Obama 25 feet in the air with a noose. It was hung from a tree over a walkway, creating a hazardous condition, resulting in the disorderly conduct charge.
Neither Fischer nor Bush was a member of the fraternity, Monroe said.
"They expressed extreme remorse for a prank that they say got out of hand," Monroe said of the two men. "They meant no harm or disrespect."
Fischer will also face disciplinary proceedings through the University of Kentucky, UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. said on Thursday. The punishment could be as simple as a warning or could include expulsion. Those proceedings, however, are confidential by federal law.
The life-size effigy was found early Wednesday morning hanging from a tree near the Rose Street parking garage. Those who saw the effigy, which was quickly taken down by university personnel, say it was wearing an Obama mask, a sport coat and pants. Todd and others condemned the hanging of the life-size stand-in for Obama.
The effigy of Palin that sparked the copycat incident at UK was included in a Halloween display at a Hollywood home. The homeowner, after outcries from the public, took the display down, the Los Angeles Times reported. Other effigies of Obama have appeared in other places, including Clarksville, Ind. That display — also part of a Halloween decoration—was also taken down.
But in the UK case, the motive was not clear and the hanging of the effigy could have been construed as a threat, Monroe said.
The more serious charges against the two men were largely in connection with the alleged burglary of the fraternity.
But talk radio and blogs on Thursday were atwitter with debate on whether the hanging of the effigy of Obama, who has a white mother and a black father, from a tree by a noose was racist. Some said the effigy was merely a form of political speech protected by the First Amendment, while others cited it as a reference to the historic lynching of thousands of black men in the South.
Todd said it was unfortunate that the incident happened on UK's campus but said the incident has prompted people to examine their own feelings on race.
"As outrageous and offensive an act as the effigy was, I truly believe it has mobilized our campus, the community and the state in an effort to battle racism and hate and seek the better angels of our nature," Todd said at a press conference Thursday. "Clearly, we have much work to do in educating each other about tolerance and mutual respect."