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4 people are being charged with assault for the waterfront brawl in Montgomery

A screenshot from one of the videos of the brawl in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday. The video shows a fight that broke out between an apparent dock worker and several men who appeared to be parking their pontoon boat in a space reserved for the city's riverboat.
@Josh_Moon / Screenshot by NPR
A screenshot from one of the videos of the brawl in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday. The video shows a fight that broke out between an apparent dock worker and several men who appeared to be parking their pontoon boat in a space reserved for the city's riverboat.

Updated August 10, 2023 at 4:33 PM ET

Authorities in Montgomery, Ala., are charging three men with assault for attacking a riverboat co-captain on Saturday. When officers arrived on scene, the fight had spiraled out of control into a full on brawl at the city's Riverfront Park.

Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that three men involved in the incident have been identified as: Richard Roberts, 48, facing two counts of third-degree assault; Allen Todd, 23, and Zachary Shipman, 25, both of whom face one count of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor in Alabama.

On Thursday, Mary Todd, 21, turned herself in to authorities and was also charged with third-degree assault, officials said.

The chief told reporters that the department has been working with the city's district attorney and the FBI on what charges could be filed. Albert said that at this time the incident doesn't constitute charges of a hate crime or inciting a riot.

"I understand the question and concern, that's why this department looked under every stone for answers," Albert told reporters.

Albert said one of the men is already in police custody in Selma, while two others planned to turn themselves in later on Tuesday.

The chief said the men had parked their pontoon boat in a space reserved for the Harriott II riverboat, and that though there were no signs posted at the time, the dock space is well-known to be for the ship.

Damien Pickett, the Black man seen in videos of the incident, is the co-captain of the Harriot II. He was sent ashore with an unidentified 16-year-old white male employee to remove the pontoon boat after some 45 minutes of trying to dock, Albert said.

The crew from the Harriott II had tried to reach the owners of the boat by using their loudspeaker, but the owners responded with vulgar language and hand gestures, according to Albert.

When Pickett arrived on the dock, he tried to remove the boat so the Harriot II could safely dock, but was then confronted by the three white suspects, and a fight quickly ensued, Albert said.

The police said in a statement Monday that officers responded to a disturbance near Riverfront Park, and "At the scene, they located a large group of subjects engaged in a physical altercation." By the end of the night, 13 people were detained and interviewed, but ultimately released, Albert told reporters on Tuesday.

Albert said more warrants will likely be issued as officers continue reviewing footage. He also asked 42-year-old Reggie Gray, a Black man allegedly seen using a chair as a weapon in the footage, to come forward for questioning.

Pickett was the only one reported to have been treated at a hospital for injuries sustained in the brawl, Albert noted.

Montgomery Mayor Steven L. Reed promised residents in a statement on Saturday that "justice will be served."

"This was an unfortunate incident which never should have occurred. As our police department investigates these intolerable actions, we should not become desensitized to violence of any kind in our community," Reed said. "Those who choose violent actions will be held accountable by our criminal justice system."

Reed briefly addressed the issue during a press event Monday afternoon. He said that the safety of the community is paramount, that police are continuing to investigate the incident and that more details will be shared in a press conference on Tuesday.

"We want to make sure that the community is aware that we are fully engaged and we are doing all of our due diligence to find out exactly what took place," Reed said.

Alabama political reporter Josh Moon shared a video of the fight on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. It shows that the incident appears to have been started by a group of boaters who had docked their pontoon boat in a space reserved for the city's riverboat.

Videos show Pickett working to untie the pontoon boat when he is confronted by a group of white men who appear to be responsible for the boat.

The riverboat's operator did not respond to a request for comment.

While the attendant was pointing to the riverboat making its way to the dock, one of the men becomes visibly agitated before striking him. One man appears to try to break up the attack, but then more young white men sprinted along the dock and joined the fight, then dragging Pickett to the ground to continue their attack.

The attack quickly spiraled out of control as several onlookers joined in on the chaos.

The incident started just hours after former President Donald Trump joined his supporters at an annual Republican Party summer dinner in Montgomery, which is credited as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.

Albert said the investigation is ongoing and that it's important to note that the brawl wasn't started by Montgomery residents.

"This is not indicative of who we are as a city. Montgomery is much better than that," the chief said. He also issued a stern warning ahead of any "possible retaliatory acts."

"Don't come here with it. We're not going to tolerate it," Albert said. "We will be active, we will be aggressive, and we will not allow this type of behavior in our city."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 8, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the name of the city's riverboat as the Harriet II. The boat is called the Harriott II. It has also been updated to clarify that police have detained several people in connection to the brawl, and say charges are pending. Previously, the story said multiple people had been arrested.
Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.