FBI determines no hate crime was committed at Talladega
Federal investigators looking into a possible hate crime during Sunday’s GEICO 500 NASCAR Cup Series event at Talladega Superspeedway announced on Tuesday that no hate crime took place, and no federal charges would be filed.
A piece of rope found in the garage stall occupied by Bubba Wallace’s race team that was thought to be a noose was determined to actually have been part of a garage door pull-down rope that had been present in the same Talladega garage stall since 2019.
A crew member for Wallace's Richard Petty Motorsports team found the piece of rope that resembled a noose in the garage stall late Sunday afternoon and notified NASCAR officials, who in turn called the Birmingham office of the FBI, who sent 15 investigators to the track to try and determine where the rope might have come from and who was responsible.
On Tuesday, in a statement from U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr., the FBI concluded that no hate crime had been committed, and that the rope had been been there since last fall.
"The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week. The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019. Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.
"The decision not to pursue federal charges is proper after reviewing all available facts and all applicable federal laws. We offer our thanks to NASCAR, Mr. Wallace, and everyone who cooperated with this investigation."
The announcement comes as relief to many in the garage who believe that Wallace – NASCAR’S only African-American driver – had been the target of a hate crime, especially in light of the current social unrest that has plagued the country over the last few weeks in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.
In recent weeks Wallace has spoken out about racial and social injustice following the death of George Floyd, including running a "Black Lives Matter" paint scheme on the famous No. 43 Ford.
In response to statements from Wallace on social justice reform, NASCAR instituted a ban on Confederate flags - long seen a symbol of racism - at all of NASCAR’s sanctioned event starting last weekend at Talladega, which itself has caused controversy among fans who see the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage.
Wallace himself was unaware of the discovery made in the garage on Sunday and was not present in the garage area following Sunday’s rain-out.
After word of the potential hate crime got out after the race as rained out on Sunday, nearly the entire NASCAR garage rallied around Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports team, walking Wallace’s car out onto the starting grid in solidarity prior to the re-scheduled race on Monday.
At the time of the discovery on Sunday, NASCAR released a statement saying "we are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act". NASCAR also stated they contacted the FBI to help in the investigation.
In a teleconference with the media on Tuesday, NASCAR president Steve Phelps stated that NASCAR was continuing to investigate why the pull-down rope was in the shape of noose to begin with, and stated that even though it was shown proven that no hate crime was committed, NASCAR would not have proceeded any differently in regards to their investigation.
"I do want to make sure everyone understands that if given the evidence that we had was delivered to us on [Sunday] night or late [Sunday] afternoon, we would do the same thing," Phelps said. "We would have done the same investigation. It was important for us to do. There is no place in our sport for this type of racism or hatred. It's not part of who we are as a sport.
"The evidence is very clear, that the noose that was in that garage (stall) had been in the garage previously. In the last race we had there in October (2019), that noose was present, and the fact that it was not found until (Sunday) is a fact.
"To be clear – we would do this (investigation) again. The evidence that we had, it was clear we needed to look into this."
Richard Petty Motorsports also released a statement on Tuesday, thanking NASCAR and the FBI for a "swift and thorough investigation" and reiterated that neither the team nor Wallace had anything to do with the presence of the rope, a statement echoed by Phelps.
"The 43 team had nothing to do with this," said Phelps.
The rope in question was found in photos taken of the same garage stall during last October's race at the speedway. At the time, the No. 21 car of Wood Brothers Racing occupied the stall, and the team released a statement Tuesday saying a crew member on their team first recalled seeing the rope last fall, but did not bring it to anyone's attention at the time. However the team alerted NASCAR when they learned of the investigation.
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