Sharmeka Moffitt, the woman who police say faked a brutal attack framed to look racial in nature, may face charges for fabricating the story.
20-year-old Sharmeka Moffitt is currently recovering from burn-related injuries sustained in the attack that law enforcement now feels comfortable classing as a “racial hoax.” While no motive for Sharmeka Moffitt’s alleged actions has been disclosed, the woman called 911 Sunday night to report that three white men in Ku Klux Klan garb accosted her, wrote racial epithets on her Buick LaCrosse and burned her in an unprovoked attack.
Sharmeka Moffitt has not yet spoken publicly about the case, but the family of the woman released a statement apologizing for her alleged actions when police exposed their suspicions about Moffitt’s claim. In the statement, Sharmeka’s family apologized to all involved for the alleged racial hoax:
“Our family is devastated to learn the circumstances surrounding our daughter’s injuries. While this was not the resolution we had expected, it is a resolution, and we appreciate the thorough investigation by the local and state police, as well as federal agencies. We are sincerely sorry for any problems this may have caused and wish to express our appreciation for the outpouring of love, prayers and support we have received from friends, acquaintances, church organizations and government officials.”
Initial reaction to Sharmeka Moffitt’s story was largely outrage, and a Facebook page in support of the seeming victim garnered 50,000 likes in a few hours. In fact, police say social media outcry about the Moffitt case was a factor in the way it was handled.
Franklin Parish Sheriff Kevin Cobb explained that the Sharmeka Moffitt case was an example of how incomplete stories spread through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook can make it harder for cops to do their jobs and gather all the accurate facts — and the anger initially seen with the Moffitt alleged hoax makes it easy to see how national pressure at that level can interrupt and investigation:
“I want to let everybody know that we’re in a different time with social media, and it really affects the way that law enforcement reacts to situations these days … It’s quite challenging.”
Capt. Doug Cain, public affairs commander for Louisiana State Police, echoed Cobb’s sentiments and elaborated. Cain explains that while the “public has a right to know” about cases and their progress, the mediums now used are not ideal from a law enforcement perspective.
Police departments across the US have effectively used social media to be a direct source for the public to learn of crimes, potential dangers and criminals at large, but when the information comes from the public, inaccuracy can inflame an already volatile situation. Cain describes the issue his department faced with the Sharmeka Moffitt case and its aftermath on social media:
“Our philosophy is that the public has a right to know, but often the information disseminated through social media isn’t accurate … We’re most concerned with the facts. It’s a challenge when we’re trying to find those facts and the issue is clouded with inaccuracies in social media. It complicates the work we’re trying to do.”
Local officials in Moffitt’s jurisdiction expressed concern that had the nature of the woman’s injuries not been caught early, tensions could have increased.
But now that the tale has been deemed likely a fake, Louisiana District Attorney Mack Lancaster said Wednesday that Moffitt could face several felony and misdemeanor charges due to the false claims:
“I think there must be some consequences … This is almost a hate crime, figuratively, against the community. Had the law enforcement agencies not acted so fast and effectively, this could have incited a volatile civic situation.”
Lancaster says that in addition to the standard false report charges, possible negative effects on the community in which Moffitt claimed the attack occurred will also factor into the counts he may opt to bring. He explains:
“The facts of the case will determine the charges … I’ll have to look at everything surrounding the case, including motive, but I’ll also have to look at the apprehension created in the community.”
Lancaster says that while the Sharmeka Moffitt alleged hoax was costly, the price tag is not a factor on charges. A motive in the alleged actions of Sharmeka Moffitt is still being determined.