Montgomery Police Investigate Brawl on Alabama Riverfront


The police in Montgomery, Ala., are expected to charge at least three people in connection with a brawl that broke out over the weekend when a group of white boaters attacked a Black boat captain at the city’s popular Riverfront Park. The violent scene, which bystanders captured on video, has stoked memories of the city’s racist history.

The police issued arrest warrants for three men and more might follow, said Darryl J. Albert, the chief of the Montgomery Police Department, at a news conference on Tuesday. Richard Roberts, 48, faces two warrants for third-degree assault, a misdemeanor; Allen Todd, 23, faces one warrant for third-degree assault; and Zachary Shipman, 25, also faced a warrant for third-degree assault. All three men have been asked to turn themselves in; none of them are residents of Montgomery, the police said.

One of the men has already turned himself in to the police in Selma, Ala., Chief Albert said, and the other two are expected to turn themselves in later Tuesday afternoon.

A fourth man, Reggie Gray, 42, was wanted for questioning by the police after videos showed him wielding a folding chair during the incident, Chief Albert said.

While the police and federal authorities are still reviewing video evidence, the Montgomery police are not pursuing hate crime or riot charges at this time, he said.

“When the incident took place, the Police Department didn’t have the luxury of videos that we all have seen now,” Chief Albert said. “Now that we have more information, more charges are pending.”

Bystanders captured the incident on video from multiple angles that showed how a lively Saturday afternoon on the Alabama River turned into an all-out brawl. The fight, which seemed largely to be divided along racial lines, garnered a large social media response, including cartoons, TikTok videos, a song and even re-enactments, with many users reacting to a seeming reversal of fate along one of America’s most brutal historical markers of the slave trade. The fight occurred at the same dock where enslaved Americans arrived by steamboat to be sold in the center of town.

The altercation began when a group of white boaters docked a pontoon in an area designated for a larger riverboat on the Gun Island Chute portion of the Alabama River in Montgomery. The riverboat, known as the Harriott II, offers cruises with dining and live entertainment along a stretch of the river.

As the Harriott tried to re-dock after an outing with 227 passengers aboard, its captain attempted to contact the owners of the pontoon for 45 minutes via the public announcement service, instructing them to move their vessel, Chief Albert said.

They responded with “gestures, curse words and taunting,” he said.

After this, Damien Pickett, a co-captain of the Harriott, took a ride on a small boat to the dock so he could talk to them, Chief Albert said. When Mr. Pickett, who is Black, tried to move the pontoon just enough to allow the Harriott to dock, the owners of the pontoon confronted him “in a very hostile manner” and attacked him, Chief Albert said.

“The co-captain was doing his job,” he said.

Several members of the Harriott’s crew “came to Mr. Pickett’s defense,” Chief Albert said, “engaging in what we all have seen since on social media.”

Videos showed one of the white men then punching Mr. Pickett, who was jumped on and beaten by the other white boaters; one of them appears to try to place Mr. Pickett in a headlock. Other videos show another Black man, who appears to be a staff member of the Harriott II, jump off the riverboat and swim to the dock to defend Mr. Pickett as other Black bystanders join them on the deck. Several videos show one Black bystander, whom the police identified as Mr. Gray, hitting a white man with a folding chair.

Chief Albert said that in addition to Mr. Pickett, an unnamed 16-year-old white male, who took Mr. Pickett to the dock, was also attacked by the owners and operators of the pontoon. Mr. Pickett received treatment for injuries on Saturday night, but Chief Albert said he did not know of anyone else seeking medical care.

Mayor Steven L. Reed, Montgomery’s newly elected first Black mayor, said at the news conference that the attack did not characterize the Montgomery community at large, especially since the attackers were not from the city.

“It’s important for us to address this as an isolated incident, one that was avoidable and one that was brought on by individuals who chose the wrong path of action,” Mr. Reed said at the news conference. “This is not indicative of our community at all.”


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