An Albemarle County man has been convicted of disorderly conduct after admitting to placing a noose around the neck of the University of Virginia’s statue of Greek poet Homer.
Far from the act of racism many first believed it to be, 35-year-old Shane Michael Dennis said the noose was meant to be a protest of the abuse and sexualization of children.
The statue, officially called “Blind Homer and his Student Guide,” depicts the author of the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” with a young Egyptian assistant at his feet — something Dennis’ counsel said his client found “extremely problematic.”
Dennis pleaded guilty earlier this month in Albemarle County General District Court to disorderly conduct with no additional jail time.
The trouble began on the evening of Sept. 7, 2022, about two weeks after university classes began, when police got a report of a noose hanging from the neck of the statue of Homer on the Lawn in front of Old Cabell Hall.
After reviewing surveillance footage, UVa police placed the blame on a man wearing jeans and a dark-colored jacket and declared the incident a hate crime.
“The facts available indicate that this was an act intended to intimidate members of this community,” wrote President Jim Ryan in an open letter issued the afternoon after the noose was found.
Ryan suggested that the noose was an act of racism.
“A noose is a recognizable and well-known symbol of violence, most closely associated with the racially motivated lynchings of African Americans,” Ryan continued. “The combination of those factors led University public safety officials to determine that this incident met the criteria of a hate crime and that a community alert was required.”
University officials said they sought the assistance of the FBI.
At a mid-September rally students said university leaders weren’t doing enough to fight White supremacy.
Within two weeks, there were reports of two additional breaches of the peace.
In one incident, rocks were reportedly thrown through a window at the office for African American Affairs. In another, a flag depicting an owl and a check for $888.88 was found at the school’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. Speculation ran wild that someone or some group was intending to intimidate students of color.
The combination of incidents so jarred some students that the school’s police chief and chief operating officer issued a joint statement to quell fears and tamp rumors.
“Neither of these two is connected to each other or to the noose that was found around the Homer statue,” wrote Police Chief Tim Longo and COO J.J. Davis.
The cryptic gifts left at the memorial, in particular, was later revealed to be an actual donation left by a UVa alumnus who is a member of Wise Investment Philanthropy, a group which completes “random acts of kindness.” The individual who threw the rocks was later apprehended and charged with vandalism but cleared of committing a racist hate crime, the school said.
In Long and Davis’ statement, the pair announced a $2,000 reward — later bumped to $10,000 via an anonymous pledge — for information leading to the apprehension of the noose culprit. They released grainy images of the suspect caught on camera and also revealed that the noose was not the only item left at the statue that night.
“Because of the anxiety around Grounds we want to let all of you know that one document found at the scene was a flyer that advertised a student-led social event that had already transpired and was completely unrelated to this incident,” they wrote. “Another document recovered was marked with the phrase ‘TICK TOCK.’”
Just when the case appeared to stall, the culprit made a return trip to Homer by the morning of Oct. 22 to leave a few more items, including a letter inside an envelope, a Christian cross, a “civil peace flag” which resembles a pale version of the Stars and Stripes, and a Guy Fawkes mask, the kind made popular by the Anonymous hacker group.
The letter enclosed in the envelope suggested that while the statue was designed in 1907 by renowned sculptor Moses Ezekial to celebrate the blind poet, it in fact glorified pedophilia.
“If you live in reality you will see an old man with a nude adolescent boy in between his legs.”
By this time, James Bacon, executive director of conservative alumni group the Jefferson Council, questioned, “Is it still a hate crime if the perp was protesting pedophilia?”
According to the charging documents, it was.
Dennis was arrested on Oct. 24 and charged with displaying a noose to intimidate, a felony, and held without bail.
This was not his first bout with the local legal system. In late 2016, he was accused of forcibly kissing a customer at a therapeutic floating center. He was found not guilty of assault at trial in Charlottesville General District Court.
On the UVa charge, Dennis complicated matters for himself by refusing to answer an Albemarle judge’s questions or sign papers during his first courtroom appearance, resulting in a contempt charge and conviction.
After 10 nights in jail, a woman named in court papers as Kristin Leanne Morgan promised a $10,000 bond.
As part of his pretrial release, Dennis, a military veteran, was ordered to initiate and maintain mental health treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Dennis returned to Albemarle County General District Court on Aug. 3 with Justin Corder, his lawyer, to plead no contest to a count of disorderly conduct. He received a six-month sentence with all jail time suspended and ordered to remain on good behavior for a year.
“Upon investigation, it became apparent that this case was not a racially motivated hate crime, as many initially feared, and that Mr. Dennis simply never harbored any racially motivated intent of any kind,” Corder told The Daily Progress in an email. “Instead, Mr. Dennis intended to protest what he considered to be an extremely problematic public statute glorifying the abuse and sexualization of children.”
Dennis appears to have moved out of his rented Charlottesville Fashion Square-area townhouse. The Daily Progress’ efforts to reach him were not successful. He has been banned from university property.