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Black riverfront worker said he ‘hung on for dear life’ during Montgomery attack

In a handwritten statement filed with police, Damien Pickett described being attacked by boaters in the confrontation on the Montgomery Riverfront.
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In his written deposition to Montgomery police, filed hours after he was attacked at the city’s riverfront last weekend, dock worker Damien Pickett said he “hung on for dear life” as he was pummeled by a group of white boaters who disregarded his requests to move their boat so a dinner cruise vessel could dock.

NBC News obtained the handwritten account Pickett filed with law enforcement after the Aug. 5 melee.

Pickett, who has yet to speak publicly about the incident and did not respond to a request for comment, detailed the moments leading up to the fracas, which was captured on video. In his statement, he recounts the battle between white disruptive boaters and the cadre of Black people who came to his aid.

Mary Todd, one woman who jumped into the melee, was taken into custody Thursday by the Montgomery Police Department and charged with third-degree assault. On Wednesday night, two of the three men initially charged in the altercation — Allen Todd, 23, and Zachary Shipman, 25 — turned themselves in to face third-degree assault charges. Richard Roberts, 48, was already in custody. They did not answer requests for comment about Pickett’s account of events. 

Pickett wrote that crew members asked the occupants of the pontoon boat, through an intercom, to move it “five or six times.” When Pickett left the cruise vessel, Harriott II, to confront the passengers of the smaller boat, he heard passengers shouting to the rowdy boaters to “move your boat. You’re in the way.”

The men on the pontoon responded by “giving us the finger” for about three minutes, Pickett wrote. 

Eventually, he and a dockhand untied the pontoon boat and moved it “three steps to the right” and tied it back to a post so the Harriott II could dock.

“By that time, two people ran up behind me,” Pickett wrote. One of the men, in a red hat, yelled to Pickett, “Don’t touch that boat motherf— or we will beat your ass.”

“I told them, ‘No, you won’t,’” he wrote. Pickett said they were unaware that he had given the captain the go-ahead to dock the Harriott II. The men continued to threaten Pickett, he said, and he told them: “Do what you’ve got to do, I’m just doing my job.”

One white man called another white man over to the scene. “They both were very drunk,” Pickett wrote. Another man came over to “try to calm them down” and then the boat’s owner came over. Pickett explained that the signs denoting where to park had been taken down by someone, so he had to tell them where to move the boat to make room for the Harriott II. 

The boat’s owner, wearing a gray shirt and red shorts with a sun visor, “started getting loud … He got into my face. ‘This belongs to the f— public.’ I told him this was a city dock.”

Soon, the melee began. “By that time,” Pickett wrote, “a tall, older white guy came over and hit me in the face. I took my hat off and threw it in the air. Somebody hit me from behind. I started choking the older guy in front of me so he couldn’t anymore, pushing him back at the same time.

“Then the guy in the red shorts came up and tackled me … I went to the ground. I think I hit one of them.”

He said the attackers littered him with threats as they ganged up on him. “I’m gonna kill you, motherf—--. Beat your ass, motherf—--.” 

“I can’t tell you how long it lasted,” Pickett wrote. “I grabbed one of them and just held on for dear life.”

Eventually, Pickett said he looked up and help had arrived. “Two people were pulling them off me.” He described the assistance as coming from a tall Black man and a security guard. After struggling to his feet, Pickett said he looked up and “one of my co-workers had jumped into the water and was pushing people and fighting.”

While being held by someone, Pickett asked to be released so he could dock the boat. He gave the necessary orders to the captain to park the vessel.

Witnesses say a large brawl that broke out on an Alabama riverfront Saturday was fueled by alcohol and adrenaline.
Witnesses say a large brawl that broke out on the riverfront in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday was fueled by alcohol and adrenaline.Courtesy Christa Owen

 Meanwhile, “my nose was running … and I could hear passengers and co-workers arguing with the people who attacked me.”

The Harriott II docked and when the ramp came down for passengers to disembark, Pickett’s nephew “ran off the boat and went after them. I was screaming for him to come back.”

The nephew did not come back and the encounter escalated. 

“The security guard was trying to get the lady in red to leave; she wouldn’t listen. People from off the boat and spectators were coming down the back end of the dock. The guy who started it all was choking my sister. I hit him, grabbed her and moved her … I turned around and MPD had a taser in my face. I told him I was the one being attacked and could I finish doing my job.”

The back of the cruise vessel had not been tied to the dock. Pickett, despite the chaos around him, helped passengers off the boat with the aid of police. He apologized to them “for the inconvenience. They all said I did nothing wrong,” he wrote. “Some of them were giving me cards with their names and numbers on it. Some said they had it all on film, so I pointed them out to MPD.”

At some point, Pickett said he was led to a medic, “where I sat for 25 or 30 minutes. My head was hurting. I felt a knot in the back of my head and the front.”

 With coaxing, he sought treatment in the emergency room, where he was shown to have bruised ribs and bumps on his head, but no broken bones.