Police have arrested one suspect in the brutal beating of a former U.S. Marine in West Point, Mississippi, Police Chief Tim Brinkley told reporters on Monday.
Ralph Weems, 32, was left with “life-threatening injuries” and placed into a medically induced coma after a group of men assaulted him in a restaurant parking lot on Saturday morning.
Courtez McMilliam, 22, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault late Monday. Though Brinkley said in a press release that the attack doesn’t appear to be a hate crime, an eyewitness account suggests race may have played a role in the attack. The first suspect arrested in connection to the beating is a black man; Weems is white.
David Knighten, an Air Force veteran of the Afghanistan War who was with Weems during the attack, recalled “racial slurs” being shouted during the beating. Further, he said a man politely told him outside a Waffle House that the restaurant wasn’t a safe place for whites as people were angry over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
After Weems argued with some people inside the Waffle House, police were called and he and Knighten left. They reportedly went to a Huddle House restaurant, Knighten says they were followed by a group of men.
Witnesses reportedly told police the group was made up of black males, but no one could identify them.
At one point, Knighten says he was blocked from reaching Weems. By the time he got to his side, he says Weems was on the ground being kicked by a group of people, who also attacked him.
Brinkley said it will ultimately be up to the Grand Jury to decide if a hate crime was committed.
“It’s up to the grand jury to make this determination,” Brinkley said. “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.”