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Alabama riverboat captain reveals past ‘trouble’ with pontoon boat owners after brawl

The captain said they were previously going to press charges against the pontoon boat owners for a separate incident years ago

Kelly Rissman
Friday 11 August 2023 15:00 BST
Alabama riverboat brawl: Montgomery Police Chief lists the names of suspects and charges

The captain of the Harriott II riverboat revealed that he has had “trouble” in the past with the group who were arrested and charged with assault for their actions in the Montgomery waterfront brawl.

A fight broke out over the weekend along the dock after a deckhand asked the owners of a pontoon boat to move it a few feet, so that the Harriott II—which was carrying 227 passengers—could safely dock. The pontoon boat was partially blocking the riverboat’s designated space, the Montgomery Police chief previously said.

The exchange, which was captured on video, quickly got out of hand when one of the men on the pontoon boat allegedly started getting physical with the deckhand. Three men and one woman have so far been arrested in connection with the incident: Richard Roberts, 48, Allen Todd, 23, Zachary Shipman, 25, and Mary Todd, 21.

Capt Jim Kittrell told Alabama’s 93.1 radio station that this wasn’t the first time he had encountered the group.

“This is the same group that comes every year. They’re from Selma. And, we’ve had trouble with them in the past, but just like jokey things,” he stated.

He went into further detail about the group, citing one example from a few years ago while talking on CNN on Thursday. When the group came to Montgomery, the captain recalled, after a cruise, the riverboat crew tried to retrive “our golf cart that we used to get people up the hills that are handicapped or elderly.” But it was nowhere to be found.

Mr Kittrell said he received a call from the Embassy Suites Hotel, saying the golf cart is in the hotel lobby. After being shown video footage of the cart entering the lobby, he said they “find out who it is,” and he called his boss, who “wanted me to press charges” because the property belonged to the city.

Harriott II boat Capt Jim Kittrell speaks to CNN about the riverfront brawl in Montgomery, Alabama (CNN)

However, police talked him out of it. Mr Kittrell recounted the police telling him at the time that it was “juust a little prank. Just let it slide.” So they did.

But this time, the police didn’t let it slide. Mr Roberts had already been in custody with the Selma Police Department, while Mr Todd and Mr Shipman turned themselves in on Wednesday evening. Mary Todd handed herself in on Thursday and has been charged with assault in the third degree.

However, they are still trying to get in touch with Reggie Gray, whom the police chief has described as “wielding that folding chair” in videos, with footage showing him allegedly hitting multiple people over the head.

The police chief announced they were looking for him on Tuesday; on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Montgomery Police told The Independent that investigators will “certainly” find Mr Gray.

On Wednesday, Mr Kittrell said he believed the attack was driven by race.

“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. However, the captain said, after the initial attack on the deckhand, the rest of the brawl did not fall along racial lines.

On CNN on Thursday, Mr Kittrell expanded on that claim, saying, “I saw it like everybody else saw it. It looks like White people attacking a Black man. But, he added, “I don’t know the hearts of those men...Now, I do know the hearts of my crew. And my crew was frustrated because they couldn’t get to the dock” and protect the deckhand, Damien Pickett.

The captain said he took Mr Pickett to the hospital after the attack, and although “he’s still having some headaches and stuff,” he said the deckhand is “doing well.”

Police said they did not find enough evidence to support hate crime charges.

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