Police say more charges likely in massive brawl at Montgomery, Alabama riverfront dock

ByAlta Spells and Nouran Salahieh, CNNWire
Wednesday, August 9, 2023
3 charged with assault after boaters attack dock employee at Montgomery, Alabama riverbank
Charges were filed against three white boaters who allegedly assaulted a Black ferry co-captain, sparking a racially charged melee at Riverfront Park in Montgomery, Alabama, on Saturday night that was captured on bystander videos that went viral.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Police say additional charges are likely as they investigate a large, chaotic caught-on-video brawl at a riverfront dock in Montgomery, Alabama, on Saturday that has so far resulted in arrest warrants for three men.

The incident began as a dispute over a dockside parking spot at Riverfront Park that led to the co-captainof a riverboat being attacked by a group that had parked their pontoon in the riverboat's spot, Montgomery Police Chief Darryl J. Albert said Tuesday.

It then escalated into a large fight that involved punches, a chair to the head and at least one person in the water.

Arrest warrants were issued Tuesday for three men, all of them from the private pontoon boat, Albert said at a news conference.

Richard Roberts, 48, was charged with two counts of third-degree assault, while Allen Todd, 23, and Zachary Shipman, 25, were each charged with one such count, Albert said. The chief described the three as White men.

One of those men has surrendered and is in custody, and the two others were expected to surrender soon, Albert said at Tuesday's news conference. He did not specify who was already in custody.

Those two additional suspects have yet to turn themselves in, Mayor Steven Reed told "CNN This Morning" on Wednesday.

"And since they didn't, we may have to go pick them up and give them a ride," Reed said.

The investigation is far from over, however, with police having "many, many more interviews to conduct," the chief said Tuesday.

"As we identify additional folks that we need to talk to, we will ask them to come in and we'll try to locate them and do further investigation to see if the charges are appropriate," Albert said.

A man seen wielding a chair in social media videos during the brawl is being asked to contact police, Albert said.

The fight largely broke down along racial lines in a city with a fraught history of racial violence. Investigators looked into whether there was enough evidence to charge for a hate crime or inciting a riot, but the actions did not meet the criteria, Albert said.

In all, 13 people were detained and questioned for several hours Saturday before being released, the chief said.

"I don't think we're near finished," the chief said. "We have a lot more work to do on this."

"We have hundreds of videos and witness statements at this time and, I would say at this point it is highly likely that more arrests and more individuals will face charges," Albert told CNN's Sara Sidner on Tuesday night.

The victims in the assaults were identified as Damien Pickett, the Black co-captain of the riverboat, and a 16-year-old White boy who had transported Pickett to the dock in a small boat.

Here's what we know about what unfolded at the riverfront dock Saturday and the ongoing investigation.

Fight stemmed from dispute over docking spot

It all began around 7 p.m. Saturday when the Harriott II riverboat - carrying 227 passengers - returned to the waterfront and tried to dock in its designated, reserved spot but found the private boat docked in its space, the chief said.

The Harriottand its passengers waited for around 45 minutes as the captain tried to reach the operators of the boat using PA system and "they were only responded to with obscene gestures, curse words and taunting," Albert said.

Pickett, the co-captain, was then picked up from the riverboat by another vessel and brought to the dock to try to have a conversation with the boat owners and get them to move, Albert said. There, the boat owners confronted the captain in a "very hostile manner," the chief said.

"The co-captain was doing his job," the chief said. "He was simply trying to move the boat in just enough to where the cruise ship couldpark safely in its in its identified location. However, it quickly escalated."

Pickett was "attacked by several members of the private boat," the chief said. The co-captain received treatment at a local hospital later that night, Albert added.

Several crew members of the Harriott II then came to Pickett's defense, according to the chief.

The 16-year-old employee of the smaller vessel that took the co-captain from the Harriott to the dock also ended up getting assaulted by someone from the pontoon boat, Albert said. The teen's mother signed a warrant on one of the individuals who attacked her son, he added.

The Harriott's captain first called police to report a disturbance at 7 p.m., then police received another call at 7:15 p.m. The first officers arrived at the scene 7:18 p.m., according to the police chief.

The fight was "brought on by reckless individuals who did not use good judgment and caused an event that certainly was avoidable," Reed said during Tuesday's news conference. "That said, the police department reacted very swiftly and very intentionally to address the matter, as did other citizens in the community."

Asked Wednesday about others who joined the brawl, Reed said, "We would have preferred obviously that maybe they break it up," but he understood emotions were running high.

"It's easy to Monday-morning quarterback the situation when you're not in it, but I certainly understand those who took the notion to try to defend ... someone they thought was being mistreated."

Investigators looked into hate crime charges

The police chief said local investigators worked with the FBI to examine 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 at the news conference - a sentiment Reed echoed to on CNN Wednesday morning, adding authorities continue to ask for witnesses to share video or audio evidence with investigators.

"I think 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," said Reed, Montgomery's first Black mayor.

The chief told CNN the police department had spent hours investigating what happened to ensure that they get it right.

"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 told CNN.

As the video of the brawl went viral online, it turned the spotlight on Montgomery's racial history. The city played a central role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and enslaved people would arrive on Montgomery's riverfront to later be sold in the city's slave markets.

"As new developments come forward, we will amend charges as necessary ... If it rises to the level of hate crimes, if it rises to the level of inciting a riot, or whatever that looks like ... we will do just that," Albert told CNN's Sara Sidner on Tuesday night.

Brawl was caught on video

The incident was captured in now viral social media video, showing it escalating from the initial interaction with the co-captain and then eventually turn into a large melee and police responding to break up the altercation.

The footage shows a shirtless White man charged and shoved the Harriott's employee, who flung his hat into the air. The shirtless man then threw several punches at him, and a group of several other White people knocked the worker to the ground and started hitting him, the footage shows.

At one point, a young White male wearing a life jacket came over to the scene and was struck by one of the shirtless White men, the video shows.

The fight escalated further, with other groups of people entering the fray, and a person aboard the boat jumped into the water and swam toward the fight, the video shows.

After a short break in the action, the Harriott II pulled in to the dock anda second round of fights began, the footage shows.

As the fighting continued, a Black man could be seen hitting two other people with a folding chair before he was detained by police, the footage shows. Another person could be seen going from the dock into the water, according to the video.

Witness Christa Owen, who was on the Harriott II with her family, described feeling like a "forced spectator" as she watched the co-captain get attacked from the boat. She said she filmed video of the confrontation and showed it to a police officer after disembarking.

"It was a very helpless feeling. I know how helpless that man must have felt," she told CNN's Sara Sidner on Tuesday night.

Owen said the co-captain was just doing his job and "trying to get us to dock so that we could leave the boat and enjoy the rest of our evening."

"The men on the pontoon boat did not listen to the captain's request over and over again and this guy was saving our night. So when he was assaulted, it was just mind-blowing - unnecessary attack," Owen said.

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