Officials investigating altercation at local club

Press conference called for this afternoon

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Mar. 7, 2007 - A man from the Dallas area was being treated at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler Wednesday morning for facial injuries sustained during an altercation at a local club last night.

Officials at this point are not calling the offense a hate crime but were not finished with their investigation into the incident. Due to the large number of calls for information, officials had slated a press conference at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the findings thus far into the investigation.

Police were still in the early stages of the investigation to determine exactly what took place, but said at this point it appears the victim, an African American man, and another man, a Caucasian from Sulphur Springs, became involved in a verbal altercation inside the club late last night.

The altercation continued to the parking lot where "somehow the suspect and the victim got tangled up," said Sulphur Springs Police Sgt. Detective Monty Tipps, who is heading the investigation along with Texas Ranger Phillip Kemp.

"It's unknown if the suspect grabbed the victim or the victim grabbed the suspect, just that they got tangled up," said Tipps, noting that a vehicle was at some point involved in the incident. "The victim was dragged a few feet through the parking lot, just a short distance. It's unclear if he turned loose or was let go."

The victim fell and hit the pavement, sustaining facial injuries and knocking out teeth. He was taken to Hopkins County Memorial Hospital, and later in the night transferred to ETMC in Tyler to undergo surgery for his injuries.

He was able to talk to authorities for a short time last night, but investigators plan to speak with him again today, or as soon as he is able.

"We have no reason to believe at this time that this is a hate crime," Tipps said Wednesday. "We've been out talking with witnesses this morning. We could be looking at aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which is the vehicle. We still have a lot of witnesses to talk to."

Tipps said his assessment thus far is based on interviews this morning, and that shortly after 11 a.m. some investigators were headed to Tyler to speak to the victim again, while others were going to talk to the suspect.

"The reports I have and information so far are it's not a hate crime," Tipps reiterated. "I spoke to one witness who said there was nothing racial about it. It was just a disagreement between two men — one just happened to be black and the other white. We're still looking into it, trying to figure out what did happen. That's why we are trying to talk to everyone, all the witnesses. We're still in the earl stage of investigation."

District Attorney Martin Braddy stressed that the investigation is under way and will be ongoing, but as of this morning no charges had been filed and no arrests made.

Braddy said he had spoken with the president of the Hopkins County Chapter of the NAACP and law enforcement officials Wednesday morning, and based on those conversations, is "confident the leaders of the African American community support law enforcement and have confidence in their ability to make decisions."

The district attorney said he plans to work for continued open communication between his office, law enforcement, the NAACP and the African American community.

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