Man was told restaurant 'not safe for whites'... Beaten by up to 20 people?
Family members say a West Point man is in a Tupelo hospital after he and another man were attacked in a Huddle House parking lot by up to 20 people.
Ralph Weems, a 32-year-old Marine and Iraq war veteran, is in fair condition today according to officials at North Mississippi Medical Center.
Monday evening, police arrested 22-year-old Courtez McMillian of Okolona. He is being held in the Clay County Detention Center and will be charged with aggravated assault.
Brinkley said other arrests are also pending, and that most, if not all of the assailants appear to come from Monroe County. Detectives are reviewing video footage of the incident.
The Associated Press reports that Weems went to a Waffle House early Saturday. His friend David Knighten, an Air Force veteran of the Afghanistan war who was with him, told reporters that a man told him politely outside the restaurant that it wasn't a safe place for whites, because people were upset by the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Knighten said when he entered the restaurant, Weems was arguing with some people inside. The argument brought police, and Knighten and Weems left. On their way to Weems' house, they stopped at a Huddle House with an empty parking lot, according to the Associated Press.
The pair was followed to Huddle House by what Knighten said was around 20 people. Witnesses told police that the group was made up of black men, but couldn't identify any of them. One witness did provide a vehicle description and police said they are working on identifying the owner.
Knighten told reporters he was trying to diffuse the situation. When a security guard told everyone to leave, Knighten said he was blocked from getting to Weems, who was on the ground being kicked by a group of people. Knighten said others then attacked him.
"I do remember racial slurs being yelled from the crowd," he told the Associated Press.
Knighten couldn't be reached for comment so far on Monday, but he posted on Facebook Saturday.
"All my injuries were minor fractures and lacerations. I just wish I could have reached him sooner. Please keep your thoughts and prayers on Ralph," he wrote.
Brinkley, who could not be reached for comment Monday, said in the release that the attack right now is an aggravated assault investigation, and that the cause is not yet determined.
"This does not appear to be a hate crime," he said. "It's very early in this investigation but thus far the evidence and statements suggest that a verbal altercation turned physical and somebody got hurt."
Investigators are reviewing surveillance video and putting together a list of suspects. Brinkley encouraged those involved with come forward voluntarily before arrest warrants are issued.
Police said it is not theirs to charge a hate crime if the situation does turn out to be racially motivated, but that the District Attorney's office and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation have been briefed.
"It's up to the Grand Jury to make this determination. All we do is process the evidence and turn the case over to the District Attorney who in turn presents it to the Grand Jury. It's within their discretion to add the hate crime enhancement," Brinkley said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 530-7151 or the West Point Police Department at (662) 494-1244.