Man charged in theft of Jackie Robinson statue, police say not a hate crime

(Reuters) - A 45-year-old man has been charged in the theft of a statue depicting pioneering baseball player Jackie Robinson, police said on Tuesday, adding that they believe the incident was not motivated by hate but rather financial gain.

The life-size bronze statue of Robinson, who in 1947 became the first Black man to play in Major League Baseball, was stolen from a Wichita, Kansas park in January and parts of it were later found burned and in a trash can.

"The investigation has not revealed any evidence indicating that this was a hate-motivated crime. Instead, we believe this theft was motivated by the financial gain of scrapping common metal," the Wichita Police Department said in a news release.

"Our detectives remain committed to gathering information to identify and charge all individuals involved in the theft and destruction of the Jackie Robinson statue."

Police said the suspect, who is currently in custody, was charged on Monday with multiple counts including felony theft, and aggravated criminal damage to property.

The statue, which commemorated Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier, was cut at its ankles and hauled off in a truck. Pieces of it were later discovered beyond repair by firefighters who had responded to a report of a fire.

After playing for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, Robinson became the first Black man to play major league baseball, when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Robinson was famous for overcoming racial hatred in a widely segregated society. He was a six-time All-Star with Brooklyn and won a World Series title in 1955, the first for the storied franchise.

After retiring from baseball, the Georgia native became active in the U.S. civil rights movement. He died in 1972 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Bill Berkrot)