Police don’t suspect ‘hate crime’ in mob attack on U.S. Marine
Police are investigating a brutal beating at a Mississippi restaurant that some are calling an attempted revenge killing for Michael Brown.
A verbal alternation between two white men and up to seven black men began at a West Point Waffle House shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday.
The restaurant’s management warned the two groups to “take it outside” and the two whites, Ralph Weems and David Knighten, left the scene after some words were exchanged. About an hour later, the men stopped at a Huddle House and realized they had been followed by “about 20 people,” according to a local TV station. The verbal confrontation resumed and, this time, it turned violent.
When police arrived at the Huddle House about 2:10 a.m. they found Weems, a 32-year-old former Marine, lying in the parking lot severely beaten. Two men were bent over Weems trying to render aid, police said, but all of the beating suspects were gone. Weems was airlifted to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo where he underwent emergency brain surgery, according to a family member, and was put into a medically induced coma.
“They’re going to try and wake him up tomorrow and see what damage was done,” Bradley Barnes told the Associated Press, describing his brother-in-law as a former Marine who served in Iraq.
Weems was listed in fair condition Sunday, according to a hospital spokeswoman. His friend, Knighten, an Air Force veteran, was also beaten and received less severe injuries. He was treated and released.
Knighten told AP he and Weems had gone to a Waffle House early Saturday. He said a man waved him over outside the restaurant and warned him that people were upset by the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and it wasn’t a safe place for whites. He went inside anyway, he said, and saw Weems arguing with some of the men.
They left after an argument that brought police, Knighten said. He told AP he showed those officers his .45-caliber handgun and his concealed carry permit.
Police Chief Tim Brinkley told WND it remains unclear if all of the parties were involved in both incidents at the Waffle House and later at the Huddle House. Witnesses on the scene were interviewed but were unable to give any details leading to the identity of the aggressors, but videotape from surveillance cameras at both restaurants is being studied, Brinkley said.
“The witnesses described the aggressors as a group of black males but couldn’t provide any other information,” according to a police statement. “The victim of the assault is white.”
Weems and Knighten were at Waffle House and got into an argument “with as many as seven men,” Brinkley told WND.
WCBI-TV reported that “It involved some racial slurs. Weems and Knighten left and went to the Huddle House, and the other group followed.”
But Brinkley was hesitant to label the incident as racially motivated. He said his investigation has turned up no evidence of racial slurs at this point, and if slurs were used, that does not automatically qualify the case as a hate crime.
“And right now we are investigating it as an aggravated assault, not a hate crime. We know there’s an aggravated assault, we don’t know that the actions and the evidence will support a hate crime, but if we get enough evidence to support that then we can amend the charges at that time,” Brinkley said in a phone interview Monday. “But for now it’s just an aggravated assault. Just because the suspects are black and the victim was white, on the face of it, does not mean that it was a hate crime. But if it appears it was a hate crime as we get further into the investigation, then we will treat it as such.
“It’s very early in this investigation but thus far the evidence and statements suggest that a verbal altercation turned physical and somebody got hurt.”