Four indicted in alleged hate crime beating of black man at bus stop

Charles Allen Cannon (far left), Brian Kerstetter (middle left), Joseph Staggs (middle right), and Michael J. McLaughlin (far right) have all been indicted on hate crime charges.

January 19, 2012 3:10:58 PM PST
What allegedly happened at a Houston bus stop is now being prosecuted as a hate crime. Four white men are accused of attacking a black man.

Late one night last August, Yondell Johnson was sitting at a bus stop waiting for the bus when he saw four men approach him, throw a few racial epithets around, and attacked.

"It was like I couldn't believe this was happening, and I thought I could be dying especially when they had me on the ground," said Johnson.

On Thursday, Johnson says justice is finally being served because the four suspects -- Charles Cannon, Michael McLaughlin, Brian Kerstetter and Joseph Staggs -- have been indicted on federal hate crime charges, meaning that the motive behind the attack was Johnson's race.

"I knew it still happened, but right here in my own back yard -- not really," said Johnson

The indictment by the federal government is a result of a multi-month investigation involving the FBI, the Houston Police Department and other local authorities. It is significant because it's only the third time the hate crime statute has been used since it passed Congress in 2009.

"The message is not only is this a new tool for law enforcement to use, but the community needs to know the law enforcement people here in Houston are willing to use it," said Stephen Morris with the FBI.

Investigators say three of the men have white supremacist gang tattoos.

The four suspects were arrested at the scene following a 911 call. If convicted, each could face up to 10 years in prison.

All four are already facing charges in Harris County, but for Johnson this day is significant.

"I'm just glad the justice is coming to an end, and justice is finally served," said Johnson.

All four men are charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It was passed in October 2009 and it expanded a previous federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The act was the first federal law to extend legal protections to transgender persons.

James Byrd Jr. was the Jasper man who was dragged to his death from a pickup truck in 1998 by three white men. His murder led Texas to pass its own hate crime law in 2001.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.