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Alabama dockside brawl was racially motivated, riverboat captain says

The Harriott II riverboat captain defends deckhand who was assaulted by pontoon boat owners who refused to move

Kelly Rissman
Wednesday 09 August 2023 17:17 BST
Alabama riverboat brawl: Montgomery Police Chief lists the names of suspects and charges

A boat captain at the centre of the viral dockside brawl in Montgomery, Alabama, has said he believes the attack on his colleague that launched the melee was racially motivated.

Capt Jim Kittrell was trying to dock the Harriott II riverboat on Saturday when he was stopped by a pontoon boat parked where his vessel was meant to come in.

After 45 minutes of waiting, he sent his deckhand Damian Pickett, who is Black, to shore to ask the pontoon boat’s owners, who are white, to move - but the request was not well received. Viral video captured the owners punching Mr Pickett before an all-out brawl ensued - largely along racial lines.

Three men are now facing charges over the incident - though police say they did not find enough evidence to support hate crime charges.

Mr Kittrell disagreed with that finding as he spoke out about the ordeal for the first time in an interview with the Daily Beast.

“The white guys that attacked my deckhand—and he was a senior deckhand first mate—I can’t think of any other reason they attacked him other than it being racially motivated,” he said.

At the time of the incident, Mr Kittrell was transporting 227 passengers on the Harriot II, a riverboat that provides two-hour cruises up and down the Alabama River.

Upon reaching the end of this particular trip, the boat became stuck yards away from the dock for almost an hour because the pontoon boat owners reportedly ignored repeated requests to move.

“This whole thing is just because these guys were being assholes,” Mr Kittrell said. “I was nice as a peach when I was talking to them at first: ‘Please, help me out here, fellas. Move the boat up a little bit.’”

Mr Kittrell told the Daily Beast that he only needed “two or three feet” to navigate the Harriott II to the dock safely. However, the pontoon boat owners, who Mr Kittrell said were obviously intoxicated, continued to not comply with the requests, so the captain was forced to call 911.

When Mr Pickett reached the dock in a smaller vessell, he lightly pushed the pontoon boat forward by a few feet, moving it from the riverboat’s space. Chaos ensued.

The viral footage captures the next few minutes of the exchange, in which Mr Pickett, a Black man, is punched by one of the pontoon boat owners, a white man.

Other people from the pontoon boat, all of whom are white, joined in the fray, assaulting both Mr Pickett and the 16-year-old boy who had taken Mr Pickett to the dock in the smaller vessel, police said.

Three people on the pontoon are facing assault charges, the police chief said. Police identified them as Richard Roberts, 48, Allen Todd, 23, and Zachary Shipman, 25. Although police considered pressing hate crimes, they did not find enough evidence to support such charges, Police Chief Darryl Albert explained.

Explaining why he thinks that finding is incorrect, Mr Kittrell said: “All [Mr Pickett] did was move their boat up three feet. It makes no sense to have six people try to beat the snot out of you just because you moved their boat up a few feet. In my opinion, the attack on Damien was racially motivated.”

Beyond the initial exchange, Mr Kittrell conceded that the rest of the fight “was not Black and white.”

“It was just shipmates trying to help a shipmate,” the captain said. “They could’ve been little green men, for all they cared. When they attacked Damien, my crew was gonna jump out and do the best they could to help him out. It was my crew against the people who attacked their shipmate, that’s all it was.”

Chief Albert explicitly said that the people aboard the pontoon boat were not local to Montgomery. “This is not indicative of who we are as a city. We are much better than that,” he said.

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