Multiple arrest warrants issued in Alabama riverfront brawl

Posted at 6:00 AM, August 9, 2023 and last updated 6:50 PM, August 9, 2023

By Alex Arger

(Scripps News) – Police have issued multiple arrest warrants after a brawl broke out Saturday on a dock in Montgomery, Alabama.

Video of the violent altercation gained nationwide attention after footage from multiple points of view — some from the riverboat trying to park and some from above the dock — spread across social media.

The footage shows a Black dock worker appearing to motion for people to move their pontoon boat, which was blocking the docking space used to park a city-operated riverboat. A White man then attacks the worker and is soon joined by multiple others who punch and shove the worker to the ground, as some other people appear to try pulling the attackers off. Within a couple of minutes, the dock and surrounding areas fill with people, either joining in on the racially divided brawl or watching it unfold from above.

Local authorities held a press conference Tuesday, and here’s what we now know.

The Harriott II riverboat sits docked in Montgomery,

The Harriott II riverboat sits docked in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. A riverfront brawl occurred on Aug. 5 when a crew member was punched for trying to move a pontoon boat that was blocking the riverboat from docking. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler)

What led up to the brawl?

There were multiple events taking place at the riverfront that Aug. 5 evening, according to Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert. The area is a popular summertime attraction spot complete with an amphitheater, stadium, park and, of course, the riverboat.

That Saturday, there were 227 passengers on the Harriott II Riverboat, which takes riders on a two-hour Alabama River tour beginning and ending at a designated docking space along the river.

When the vessel attempted to return to dock that evening, a private boat was occupying its space. According to Albert, the Harriott’s co-captain, Damien Pickett, attempted to contact the boat’s owners via the riverboat’s PA system for 40 to 45 minutes, but the boat owners only responded with “obscene gestures, curse words and taunting.”

A separate boat, which operated independently in the river, then brought Pickett to the dock to “peacefully” further conversation about moving the boat to allow the riverboat to park. That’s when multiple members of the private boat began to attack Pickett, followed by multiple members of the Harriott’s crew joining in in Pickett’s defense.

What happened after the brawl?

At 7 p.m., the first call of a disturbance came from the riverboat’s captain who was “calm and not in distress” at the time, Albert said. Because of his demeanor, police weren’t dispatched until further calls came. They first arrived 18 minutes later.

Authorities then detained 13 individuals and brought them to police headquarters to conduct interviews, which lasted several hours. After that, all parties were let go pending further investigation, but police had said incoming charges were likely.

Pickett was the only person involved who went to a local hospital for treatment following the brawl, according to Albert.

Who are the victims, and who are the suspects?

The victims include Pickett, who is a Black male, and a 16-year-old White male employee of the smaller vessel which brought Pickett to the pier. There, he was assaulted by the private boat’s group.

As for suspects, police have so far identified three White men for misdemeanor assault charges: 48-year-old Richard Roberts, with two outstanding warrants for third-degree assault; 23-year-old Allen Todd, with one warrant for third-degree assault; and 25-year-old Zachary Shipman, with one warrant for third-degree assault.

At the time of the press conference Tuesday afternoon, Albert said one suspect was in custody, and the other two were expected to turn themselves in within the hour.

Police are also asking for further interviews with 42-year-old Reggie Gray, a Black man who was seen wielding a folding chair in videos and has particularly starred in memes of the brawl.

With the ongoing investigation, more charges are likely, as police continue to review additional footage of the event to build upon witness statements.

Was this a racial matter?

Though Albert referred to repeated “obscene finger gestures” and “innuendos,” he said it wasn’t enough to deem the situation as a racially biased.

“Working with the local FBI, we did examine if there was enough to file hate crimes charges on this case … We’ve also looked at what it takes to elevate this to a riot or inciting a riot. We’ve worked with our local district attorney, and it didn’t fit the criteria for that,” Albert said. “So the charges that we have pending on assault, they’re at this time, are appropriate charges for what we’ve seen in the behavior that we’ve seen on on social media.”

Albert also said this was a standalone incident when asked if this was a continued disagreement from a prior event.

What comes next?

On top of the continuing investigation, Albert said authorities are looking into increased signage strategies in the area to further clarify that the docking area is solely meant for the riverboat.

At the time of the brawl, he said there had been no signage due to past ones either being removed or blown away. Still, he said the mooring area was well defined and sectioned off and that those who typically use the river are “very familiar” with where the larger vessel has to park.

He also said every resident, not just kids, needs to become aware of conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques to prevent an incident like this from happening again.

And as for the investigation’s future, Albert said “no one is off limits” and that the department will interview as many people as the investigation needs.

“I don’t think we’re near finished. We have a lot more work to do on this, and we’ll continue to inform the public and the media on our progress.”

This story was originally published by Scripps News, an E.W. Scripps Company.