Alabama riverfront brawl: Woman sentenced to anger management classes; 2nd defendant given jail time

ByDevon M. Sayers, Holly Yan and Fabiana Chaparro, CNN
Saturday, October 28, 2023
Arrest warrants issued for Alabama riverfront brawl
Arrest warrants have been issued in connection with a riverfront brawl in Montgomery, Alabama that drew nationwide attention after video showed a group of white people pummeling a Black riverboat worker, an exchange that sparked a massive fight.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Two people involved in a melee at an Alabama riverfront dock that caught national headlines over the summer were sentenced, with one receiving jail time and the other ordered to go to anger management classes.

Richard Roberts pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for his part in the August brawl on a Montgomery river dock. He was sentenced to 32 days, which he will serve on weekends over the course of four months. Roberts will also have to perform 100 hours of community service and pay court costs.

Another defendant, Mary Todd, 21, pleaded guilty to harassment as part of a prearranged plea agreement. She was sentenced to anger management classes and has 90 days to complete the classes and must pay court costs associated with her case.

Three other defendants, Allen Todd, 24, Reggie Ray, 42, and Zachary Shipman, 26, had their cases continued.

The Todds and Shipman were each charged with one count of third-degree assault in the August 5 brawl in Montgomery. Roberts was charged with two counts of third-degree assault, and Ray was charged with disorderly conduct.

After the court accepted his guilty plea, Roberts apologized to victims Damien Pickett and Daniel Moore.

The fracas, which some believe may have been racially motivated, erupted after a dispute over a dockside parking spot.

It started when the co-captain of the Harriott II cruise ship - carrying 227 passengers - tried to dock in its reserved spot but found a private boat docked in its space, Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert said in August.

The Harriott II and its passengers waited about 45 minutes as the co-captain, Damien Pickett, tried to reach the occupants of the docked boat using a PA system. But "they were only responded to with obscene gestures, curse words and taunting," Albert said.

Pickett was then picked up by a young dockworker in another vessel and taken to the dock so he could try to speak with the boat occupants and get them to move, Albert said. There, the boat occupants confronted the captain in a "very hostile manner," the chief said.

Pickett was "attacked by several members of the private boat" and was treated at a hospital that night, the chief said. Several Harriott II crew members came to Pickett's defense, according to the chief.

The incident, which was caught on video, largely broke down along racial lines in a city with both a fraught history of racial violence and a proud place in the civil rights movement.

Police said Pickett, the Black co-captain of the Harriott II, and the 16-year-old White boy who helped take Pickett to the dock to try to speak with the owner of the private boat were both assaulted.

The mother of the White teen said she heard racist comments directed at Pickett.

"You could hear men yelling 'f**k that n***er'" as Pickett tried to move a pontoon boat occupying the riverboat's docking location, the teen's mother said in a sworn statement to police.

But Pickett has told police he didn't think the attack was racially motivated. Pickett was in the courtroom on Friday.

"We believe what he is saying, and what he is saying is that he does not believe it was racially motivated whatsoever," Albert said in August. "If more evidence comes forward. If there's more proof that this leaned toward more of a hate crime, we will amend those charges and charge appropriately then."

CNN has reached out to Montgomery police for an update on the investigation.

The last of the five defendants taken into custody, Ray, allegedly wielded a folding chair during the brawl. His civil attorney said Ray, the lone Black defendant, was "roped into" the melee due to a "white mob."

"Mr. Ray was involuntarily roped into the disorderly conduct initiated by a violent white mob," attorney Lee Merritt said in a statement to CNN after Ray turned himself in to authorities. "Mr. Ray will continue to participate with the ongoing investigation concerning the same and is committed to being forthcoming about his limited role in the brawl."

The attorney representing another defendant said he has received "threatening letters." Attorney Richard White said he hopes the case will be tried strictly on evidence and will not be influenced by any possible preconceived notions.

"I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat, African American, White, whatever. It has no business in courts, in the city of Montgomery or anywhere else in our country. And that's the only thing I ask for," said White, who is representing Roberts.

Investigators looked into hate crime charges

The police chief said local investigators worked with the FBI to determine whether to file hate crime charges in this case.

"We were unable to present any inciting-a-riot or racially biased charges at this time," Albert said in August.

Steven Reed, Montgomery's first Black mayor, said "it's important for us to understand that there was a young White dock worker or someone who worked on the boat who also tried to help and who was attacked as well."

And the city's Black police chief said he did not take the investigation lightly.

"Knowing Montgomery's history, knowing all the civil rights things that we went through here in the city of Montgomery and what the means to the nation, we were very amped-up to get this right," Albert said.

Montgomery played a central role in the transatlantic slave trade, when enslaved people would arrive on its riverfront to be sold in the city's slave markets.

It later became the birthplace of the civil rights movement, after Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat to a White man in December 1955 led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott - the first major protest against segregation.

CNN's Alta Spells, Nouran Salahieh, Ryan Young and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.