White couple who burned cross in yard facing Black neighbors' home now under FBI investigation

ByMeredith Deliso ABCNews logo
Thursday, December 21, 2023
South Carolina couple accused of harassing Black neighbors
Federal agents are investigating allegations of racial discrimination after a South Carolina couple was accused of harassing and stalking their Black neighbors.

CONWAY, S.C. -- Federal agents are investigating allegations of racial discrimination after a South Carolina couple was accused of harassing and stalking their Black neighbors.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it executed "court-authorized law enforcement activity" at a residence in Conway on Wednesday.

"This action is related to an ongoing criminal civil rights investigation involving allegations of racial discrimination," Steve Jensen, FBI special agent in charge with the Columbia division, said in a statement.

"We are working jointly with the U.S. Attorney's Office, as well as our local and state partners, to thoroughly examine this matter, and we're dedicated to ensuring equality and fairness within our communities," he said.

No additional details on the ongoing investigation are being released at this time.

The FBI presence was seen at the home of a couple arrested last month for allegedly harassing their next-door neighbors.

The couple -- Worden Butler, 28, and Alexis Hartnett, 27, who are both white -- allegedly "harassed and stalked the victims with racially motivated words and actions," according to a police report filed late last month.

Worden Butler (left) & Alexis Hartnett (right)

Butler allegedly yelled racial slurs at one of the victims "in reference to her being Black," the police report stated.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Butler and Hartnett allegedly erected a cross facing the victims' home and set it on fire, according to the police report. While the victims were being interviewed by responding officers, Hartnett allegedly used a racial slur directed toward the victims and "continued this behavior even after being advised (by) officers to go back inside her home," according to the report.

"The victims feel that the suspects are a danger to their safety and the incidents are getting more frequent and threatening," the report stated.

Butler also allegedly shared on Facebook a picture of the victims' mailbox, which has their address on it, and posted, "summoning the devil's army and I don't care if they and I both go down in the same boat," according to the police report.

Butler and Hartnett were arrested on Nov. 30 and charged with harassment in the second degree, a misdemeanor. Hartnett was also charged with assault in the third degree, a misdemeanor. They both were released the following day.

ABC News could not reach Butler and Hartnett and did not immediately receive a response from their attorney to a message seeking comment.

Horry County Police Department Chief Joseph Hil called the reported incidents "appalling and unacceptable."

"Such hate and harassment will not be tolerated in Horry County," Hill said in a statement last week. "The individuals responsible will be held accountable for their actions and the hurt they have caused the victims and the greater Horry County community. In concert with our local and regional partners, we will pursue justice to the fullest extent of the law."

South Carolina does not have a law allowing extra punishment for hate crimes.

In the past three years, a hate crime bill has made it through the South Carolina State House but stalled on the Senate floor, according to The Associated Press.

In the wake of the couple's arrest, organizations including the NAACP and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have called for a hate crime bill in South Carolina.