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3 indicted in Arkansas cross-burning

By The CNN Wire
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Federal civil rights charges filed in August incident
  • Three men face up to 30 years in prison
  • Cross-burning is a practice once widely associated with the Ku Klux Klan
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(CNN) -- Three Arkansas men have been indicted on federal civil rights charges relating to their alleged roles in the burning of a cross in the yard of an African-American resident.

James Bradley Branscum, 22, Tony Branscum, 24, and 18-year-old Curtis Coffee were each charged with conspiring to interfere with the housing rights of another individual and one count of using fire in the commission of a felony, according to a U.S. Justice Department statement released Wednesday.

The incident occurred August 28 in the town of Salado, Arkansas, it said, prompting a joint investigation by the FBI and the Independence County Sheriff's Office.

"As a civilized society, we simply cannot tolerate such blatant acts of hatred and intimidation," said Jane Duke, U.S. attorney for Arkansas' Eastern District, in the statement. "This joint investigation demonstrates how seriously all levels and branches of law enforcement consider these acts of prejudice, intolerance, and intimidation."

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division will pursue the case with a prosecutor from Duke's office.

If convicted, the three men face a maximum punishment of 30 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

Duke says James Bradley Branscum is currently the only suspect with a defense attorney, who was not immediately available for comment.

The Branscums and Coffee could not be reached directly for comment.

Cross-burning is a practice once widely associated with the Ku Klux Klan, an extreme right-wing organization that has often advocated a white-supremacy agenda.

It is not clear whether the suspects have any connection to the Klan.