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Three men charged with assault in Montgomery riverfront brawl

Three men face misdemeanor charges after a group of white men attacked a Black dockworker in Alabama on Saturday.
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Three Alabama men are facing misdemeanor assault charges after a group of white men attacked a Black dockworker on Saturday during a brawl involving multiple people along the Montgomery Riverfront.

Montgomery Police Chief Darryl J. Albert announced assault charges against Richard Roberts, 48; Allen Todd, 23; and Zachery Shipman, 25. At a news conference Tuesday, Albert said one of the men is in custody and the other two other were expected to turn themselves in to police Tuesday afternoon. 

Police are expected to bring more charges. The other two people had not turned themselves in as of Tuesday night and were not in custody, a police spokesperson said.

“We were unable to present any inciting a riot or racially biased charges at this time," Albert told reporters.

Asked whether the situation constituted a hate crime, Albert said, “Based on the elements of this crime, those elements did not exist.”

Albert said police are also looking to speak with Reggie Gray, 42, a Black man shown in social media videos wielding a folding chair. 

Albert confirmed witness accounts of the incident: that a group of white private boaters attacked a Black dockworker, Damien Pickett, as he attempted to move their pontoon to make way for the Harriott II Riverboat. The more than 200 passengers on the riverboat waited for at least 30 minutes as its captain and Pickett tried to get the group of rowdy boaters to move their watercraft. Several members of the private pontoon then attacked Pickett, Albert said.

“They just didn’t think the rules applied to them. It was so avoidable. This never had to have happened,” a witness, Leslie Mawhorter, 52, who was aboard the Harriott II, previously told NBC News. “I knew something was going to go down, because their attitude was just, ‘You can’t tell us what to do.’ They were going to be confrontational regardless of who you were.”

The riverboat captain called police around 7 p.m. local time and officers arrived at the scene at 7:18 p.m., Albert said. Thirteen people were detained, questioned, then released, the police chief said, adding that the local FBI and district attorney’s offices are involved in the ongoing investigation. 

The family of a 16-year-old white dockworker is also calling for charges after he was attacked by the white boaters while operating a nearby vessel. Several videos of the fight began circulating the Internet in the wake of the incident. Social media users shared memes and pointed out that the combatants were split along racial lines. Many praised a group of Black men for coming to Pickett’s defense against the white boaters. 

“There was no need for this event to take the path it did,” Albert said. “The people of Montgomery, we’re better than that. We’re a fun city, and we don’t want this type of activity to shed a dark eye on what this city’s all about.”

A spokesperson for the city Parks & Recreation, which oversees the riverboat attractions, declined to comment on the matter. The Montgomery Riverfront is a popular summertime destination with a riverboat, a park, an amphitheater, a stadium and more.