Friend pleads not guilty after feds say he didn’t report Dylann Roof’s plan to attack church

In this June 18 frame from video, Joey Meek, friend of Dylann Roof, who is accused of killing nine black church members during Bible study on June 17 in Charleston, speaks to The Associated Press. Meek was arrested Thursday, more than a month after authorities told him he was under federal investigation for lying to them and failing to report a crime.

A Midlands man pleaded not guilty on Friday to federal charges of failing to report Dylann Roof’s alleged scheme to kill Charleston churchgoers, then lying to federal agents after the attack.

Joseph “Joey” Meek Jr., 21, of the Red Bank area south of Lexington, a friend of Roof’s, was indicted Tuesday on counts of misprision of a felony and making a false statement. He was arrested Thursday, and the indictment was made public the next day.

Clad in an orange jumpsuit and bound by shackles and handcuffs, Meek was arraigned Friday morning at a federal courthouse in Columbia. U.S. Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges set his bail at $100,000.

Meek’s attorney, Deborah Butcher, declined to comment.

His mother had told The Post and Courier earlier this summer that Meek thought nothing of Roof’s drunken rants about killing black people in Charleston to start a race war.

Just as they did for Roof, some family members of the nine killed when gunfire interrupted their Bible study at Emanuel AME Church said they would extend grace and mercy to Meek. Dan Simmons Jr. — whose father died that night during the study he often led when the Rev. Clementa Pinkney wasn’t there — said the accusation that Meek might have had a chance to stop Roof did not upset him.

“Forgiveness is still there,” Simmons said Friday. “You have to look at it through my perspective as a Christian. Nothing takes God by surprise. ... God allows things to happen for a reason.”

Meek faces up to eight years in prison, but legal experts said he could get a lesser punishment in exchange for his testimony against Roof. Federal prosecutors filed paperwork earlier this week that indicated another unnamed defendant in Roof’s case would be eligible for a lesser penalty than what sentencing guidelines call for.

Pete Strom, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in South Carolina, said he expects the government to aggressively pursue any potential witness who could shed light on the case, possibly offering a plea deal or sentencing recommendation in exchange for cooperation.

“This guy obviously was close to Roof and, now that he’s charged, in order for him to get any kind of deal, he is going to have to agree to cooperate,” Strom said. “They’re going to want to know if this was a wider conspiracy. If there are more people involved, there are going to be more charges.”

Melvin Graham Jr., a brother of slain victim Cynthia Hurd, also wondered if facing felony charges will pressure Meek into being more forthcoming about what he knows. Graham is among family members who doubt Roof carried out such an awful, racist act alone.

“Now the question is, did he really think (Roof) was serious, or didn’t he?” Graham said. “I’m going to have to wait and see how this plays out.”

Roof spent much of his time during the weeks before the June 17 shooting at the mobile home on Weaver Drive where Meek lives with his mother and siblings.

Roof made comments about a plan to carry out mass violence in Charleston, but Meek didn’t take him seriously, the family has said. Roof also didn’t give specifics, they have said. Meek hid Roof’s .45-caliber Glock pistol but later gave it back, he has said.

The day after investigators said Roof killed the worshippers at Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street, FBI agents searched the home. Meek said he contacted the authorities after seeing Roof’s face and bowl-style haircut on surveillance images distributed after the shooting.

But the indictment, which was signed by U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, said that Meek had actual knowledge of Roof’s plan to commit federal hate crimes and religious freedom violations.

Then, after the shooting, Meek told the FBI that “he did not know specifics of ... Roof’s plan,” the court document stated. In truth, Meek “well knew” of the scheme, and his statements to the agents “were false, fictitious and fraudulent,” the indictment alleged.

Nettles and Vanita Gupta, who leads the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, announced the grand jury’s findings after the indictment was unsealed.

If convicted of the alleged crimes, Meek faces up to three years in prison on the misprision charge and up to five years for lying. He is due in court again Wednesday to discuss his legal representation.

At the time of his arrest, Meek was serving 18 months of probation for receiving stolen goods, and he was arrested in May on the same charge, according to the State Law Enforcement Division. He has misdemeanor convictions for disorderly conduct and using a vehicle without permission. Meek also was arrested in 2012 on a felony burglary charge that was dropped earlier this year.

Roof’s 33 federal charges make him eligible for the death penalty, though prosecutors have not said whether they would pursue the punishment. He also was indicted on murder and attempted murder charges in state court, where his execution is being sought.

Simmons, the son of one victim, praised the authorities who were ensuring that no angle in the investigation would be ignored. It wouldn’t be a surprise, he said, to learn that more people knew about Roof’s scheme or failed to help the police after the massacre.

“I miss my father. We spoke daily and talked about all things in life. I miss that,” he said. “But at the same time, I know my father. He would want a correct investigation, and he wouldn’t want people to meddle in it. He was a man of order and decency.”

Arthur “Steve” Hurd, the husband of slain victim Cynthia Hurd, said he wanted to learn more about what Roof’s acquaintances like Meek knew.

“For an average American making statements like he did, you might say he was just talking,” Hurd said. “Maybe he was just talking out of his butt. ... We need to know more before casting any judgment.”

The Associated Press and Jennifer Berry Hawes of The Post and Courier contributed to this report. Reach Andrew Knapp at (843) 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.