The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia has notified an associate of Dylann Roof that he is a “potential target” of a federal criminal investigation concerning the June killings of nine African-Americans in a Charleston church.
Joseph Meek Jr., 21, of Red Bank, was notified in an Aug. 6 letter that he was under investigation for possible misprision and allegedly making false statements to law enforcement. Both crimes are felonies. Misprision is a legal term meaning the concealment of knowledge about a crime from authorities.
And several people Meek knows have testified before a federal grand jury.
In an interview with The (Columbia) State newspaper reporters Tuesday night, Meek said he did not believe he was guilty of any crime except perhaps trusting too much in Roof, an old friend, when Roof turned up in his life almost four months ago and asked for a place to stay.
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“I’m still reaping what he (Roof) sowed,” said an increasingly somber Meek as he sat on a couch in the living room of his family’s trailer. “I’m looked at like a criminal because of his actions.”
Roof faces state and federal murder charges in connection with the June 17 killings at the historic “Mother” Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. A manifesto he allegedly published online said Roof went there hoping to start a race war.
The letter, which Meek said was hand-delivered by an FBI agent in early August, gave Meek until Aug. 21 to respond to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“I kind of broke down on the front porch in front of him,” said Meek, explaining how shaken he was to get such a letter.
The letter advised Meek of his constitutional rights, stressing that he should hire an attorney and noting that if he can’t afford one, the court would appoint an attorney for him. The letter also advised him of his right to remain silent. He said Tuesday he had not yet gotten a lawyer.
Bill Nettles, the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, said Tuesday that it is U.S. Justice Department policy to “neither confirm nor deny” specifics of an ongoing investigation.
The letter Meek got indicated federal authorities are serious. “Nothing contained in this letter should be construed as an offer of immunity,” it said.
Lindsey Fry, 19, Meek’s girlfriend, also told The State on Tuesday that several months ago she and another member of Meek’s family received subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury at the U.S. courthouse in Columbia.
She said her testimony took place in a closed room with federal prosecutors, FBI agents and a group of citizens. “I just told them the truth,” she said.
A federal grand jury indicted Roof on July 22 on federal hate crime charges, including nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder. Roof also has been indicted by a Charleston County grand jury and charged with nine counts of murder. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is seeking the death penalty. Federal authorities have not yet announced whether they will seek the death penalty.
Although The State reported in early July that federal authorities were investigating Roof’s associates, the names of any person under investigation had not been disclosed until now.
Starting in late May, Roof stayed on and off at Meek’s trailer in a mobile home park in Red Bank, a sprawling, unincorporated community in central Lexington County south of I-20.
In the weeks before the June 17 Charleston killings, Roof would spend a few days at the mobile home, then visit his father near downtown Columbia and his mother in Hopkins, in lower Richland County, Fry said.
On Tuesday, Fry and Meek gave to The State new information that might explain why they and other Meek family members living at the trailer didn’t take seriously the statements Roof made in front of them about wanting to start a race war in America.
For one thing, they said, Roof made those statements only when drunk, usually on cheap vodka. Roof also experimented with different kinds of drugs, and appeared to have a possible daily cocaine habit, Fry said, indicating that Roof wasn’t the kind of person whose remarks carried much weight.
“There are a lot of people talking violent things, like rappers, and no one takes them seriously,” Meek said.
For another, they said, they never witnessed Roof mistreat any of his black friends, and Roof also had black friends on his Facebook page.
Finally, Fry said, Roof took her once to a strip club and appeared especially infatuated with a black stripper, even asking for a private dance and going up to a stage where black strippers danced. “He put money on the stage” so they would come over and dance in front of him, she said.
Meek said he has tried to help Roof since he met him when the two lived in the same neighborhood and went to the Carolina Springs Middle School in Lexington County.
One day, Dylann’s mother came up to him and, “She told me that she had a son that wouldn’t come outside, and she basically told me she wanted me to be his friend. ... I feel comfortable in helping people out like that. I wouldn’t help people out unless I was comfortable with them,” Meek said. He has the word “loyalty” tattooed on his left forearm.
Meek, who lives with his mother, Fry and two brothers, said he has taken in other friends and given them a place to stay over the years and that things have worked out.
“Not everybody is like Dylann,” he said.