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Three have been charged with assault in Alabama riverfront dock conflict

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A riverfront fight in Montgomery, Ala., between a Black man and a group of white men has gone viral. Loads of people videoed this confrontation. This was on Saturday. It started when the white men refused to move a pontoon boat. This afternoon, in Montgomery, the mayor and the police chief announced that three people have been charged and insisted...

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DARRYL ALBERT: Well, first of all, this is not indicative of who we are as a city. The city of Montgomery is much better than that. Our people are fine people.

KELLY: Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott was at that press conference. Hey, Kyle.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: This video has been everywhere. It's been all over social media. It's on - every time I look at TV, there it is. What is the latest?

GASSIOTT: Well, you're right. It - the story has a large following. But, you know, even with all the attention that we've been seeing across social media, we didn't know a lot of the details, Mary Louise, until today's press conference. So briefly, as you said, on Saturday, on the Alabama River, there were a number of boats, including a large riverboat named the Harriott II and a smaller pontoon boat with white passengers. At some point, the smaller boat parked in the spot set aside for the riverboat, and the passengers on the Harriott II started chanting, telling the pontoon boat to move. Well, the passengers in the smaller boat ignored that, as well as directions from the boat captain to move, so they sent the co-captain in a smaller boat to the dock to talk to them. And in the words of police Chief Darryl Albert...

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ALBERT: A confrontation ensued between the co-captain and Mr. Pickett, the co-captain being attacked by several members of the private boat. Several members of the Harriott II came to Mr. Pickett's defense, engaging in what we all have seen since on social media.

GASSIOTT: Then, Mary Louise, it was an all-out fight which began with the white passengers from the pontoon boat rushing in to attack the co-captain and onlookers joining in the fight. And the other thing we learned today was that a 16-year-old white boy who brought the co-captain to the dock in a smaller boat was also assaulted.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, people who have not seen this video may be beginning to get the picture, but this was a brawl. You can see people pushing and shoving and punching and picking up chairs and slamming them down on people's heads. Did we get any details of injuries?

GASSIOTT: Well, you know, Mary Louise, it's amazing because Chief Albert said that only one person required medical attention that he knew of. But, you know, as you just said, the other parts of this fight are what really has taken off in social media, including the chair-throwing. There have been a lot of memes. I've seen a lot of them, like a video reenactment of the incident staged next to a swimming pool. I don't know if you've seen that yet. Some people have taken famous works of art and pasted folding chairs into them, mimicking the fight. But, Mary Louise, one person has emerged from all this as kind of a hero. There's a 16-year-old named Aaren. He's a Black youth who jumped into the water from the Harriott II and swam to the dock to assist the captain. Mary Louise, the internet has dubbed him Black Aquaman, and he now has a publicist.

KELLY: He has a publicist? Wow. It sounds like 16-year-olds were the heroes here. Go on.

GASSIOTT: Exactly. So now, despite all those memes, three white men who we see attacking the co-captain have been charged with assault in the third degree, which police say is a misdemeanor.

KELLY: Huh. How did police come up with those charges?

GASSIOTT: Well, they looked at all the evidence. They questioned the witnesses, and they consulted with state police and the FBI on possible hate crimes charges on inciting a riot, but they say they couldn't find enough evidence where the law would allow for more serious charges. The police said race was not a factor in the assault as far as they could determine, and three white men were charged - 48-year-old Richard Roberts, 23-year-old Allen Todd and 25-year-old Zachery Shipman (ph). Now, the police chief wanted to make it clear to everybody that these three men were from Selma, Ala., and not from Montgomery. And the police called this a standalone incident, and this kind of behavior is not tolerated in Montgomery, they say.

KELLY: Kyle Gassiott with Troy Public Radio, thanks for your reporting.

GASSIOTT: Thank you, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kyle Gassiott