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Fourth person charged in connection with brawl at Montgomery riverfront dock

KIFI

By Alta Spells, Nouran Salahieh, Ryan Young, Devon M. Sayers and Dakin Andone, CNN

(CNN) — A fourth person has been charged in connection with a brawl Saturday at a riverfront dock in Montgomery, Alabama, police said Thursday.

Mary Todd, 21, has been charged with third-degree assault and was being held Thursday in Montgomery’s municipal jail, Montgomery police said.

The other three charged were Richard Roberts, 48, who faces two counts of third-degree assault, and Allen Todd, 23, and Zachary Shipman, 25, who face a count each of third-degree assault, Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert has said. They were taken into custody earlier this week, Albert said.

The fight between those charged, identified by authorities as White, and a Black co-captain of a riverboat stemmed from a dispute over a dockside parking spot, authorities said. It quickly escalated into a widespread brawl in which, according to one witness, a racial slur was used.

The incident, which was caught on video and has captured national attention, 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.

“You could hear men yelling ‘f**k that n***er’” as the Black co-captain tried to move a pontoon boat occupying the riverboat’s docking location, the mother of a victim in the altercation alleged in a sworn statement to police.

However, police still believe the brawl was not racially motivated, and the co-captain said as much when interviewed by authorities a second time, Albert told CNN on Wednesday.

“We believe what he is saying, and what he is saying is that he does not believe it was racially motivated whatsoever,” Albert said.

“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,” he added.

CNN’s attempts to reach the four people charged or their legal representation for comment weren’t immediately unsuccessful. The four are scheduled to be arraigned on September 1.

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

The witness also alleged in her sworn statement that Roberts punched her son – the 16-year-old – in the chest as he attempted to “pull people off” of the co-captain, who video shows was knocked to the ground and struck by a group of several White people. She also alleged another man in the group said he “was getting his gun,” at which point he was tackled by an employee of the riverboat, the Harriott II.

CNN is not identifying the mother or the victim because he is a minor.

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

Authorities 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 at Tuesday’s news conference, though he told CNN Tuesday night authorities could “amend charges as necessary” as the investigation continues.

Calling Montgomery the “birthplace of civil rights,” Albert told CNN, “We know how contentious this was back in the ’60s, the ‘50s, the ‘70s. We don’t want to go back to that, and we’re not going to go back to that. We are going to make sure we’re going to get it right the first time, so it’s going to be a slow and methodical process to ensure justice for all.”

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

“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 on Tuesday night.

Here’s what else 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 Harriott and its passengers waited for around 45 minutes as the captain tried to reach the operators of the boat using the 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 could park safely 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 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 Wednesday morning on CNN, 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 police department had spent hours investigating what happened to ensure that they get it right, the chief told CNN.

“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 Tuesday night.

“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 said.

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 transatlantic slave trade, as 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.

Montgomery has built a “culture of moving forward and reconciliation of our past,” City Councilwoman Marche Johnson told “CNN News Central” on Wednesday. She pointed to the presence of the Equal Justice Initiative, its museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which stands in honor of lynching victims.

“We’re fertile ground for reconciliation, right? But right now what I see is a country coming together from all walks of life to want to know what can we do next,” she said, “how can we resolve this, how can we come together as communities on two separate aisles and really truly resolve the past and move forward to the future.”

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 and a 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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CNN’s Eric Levenson and Christal Hayes contributed to this report.

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