Black man hit with felony in alleged Snowmass Village racial fight
August 8, 2017
A black man from Wisconsin who punched a local man in the face last spring after allegedly being repeatedly called a racial epithet was charged with felony assault Tuesday.
Brandon Hines, 20, of Milwaukee, was initially charged with misdemeanor assault after the April incident, though the District Attorney's Office upgraded the count because further investigation found that the severity of the injuries suffered by the victim, Jim Andre, merited it, prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz said.
In addition to the felony count for Hines, a third man, Joshua Jones, who allegedly made racist remarks to Hines and his two friends in the Snowmass Village bar before the punch was thrown, was charged Tuesday with misdemeanor bias-motivated harassment, according to a statement from the Ninth Judicial District Attorney's Office.
Though police reports quote "several witnesses" as saying Andre also used racial slurs against Hines and "deserved to get punched for the racist remarks that he made," the DA's Office did not charge Andre with a similar crime.
Oszczakiewicz declined to comment Tuesday on the specific reasons behind the decision, saying it was based on the evidence uncovered during the investigation.
Ryan Kalamaya, Hines' attorney, said his client was weighing his options, though he anticipated setting the case for trial.
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"I do not see how a jury of 12 people could find my client intended to cause serious bodily injury, or did cause serious bodily injury," he said.
A soundless video of the incident shows that Andre clearly provoked Hines, then reached around another person and touched him before Hines punched Andre, Kalamaya said. Further, the video shows that Andre fell outside the bar in the presence of Snowmass Village police officers at least 15 minutes after he was punched, and clearly sustained head injuries at that time, he said.
Finally, Snowmass Village police didn't get identifying information from several of the witnesses who said Andre got what he deserved, which means Hines cannot obtain their recollections for a trial, Kalamaya said.
Police reports detailing the incident state that Jones, 40, first approached Hines and his two white friends and "made some racist remarks to the three." In response, Hines knocked Jones' hat off, spilled his drink and slapped him across the face, the report states.
"James Andre … saw this action and came over to the group to defend Jones," according to the bartender's observations detailed in the police report. "While defending Jones, Andre called Brandon (the N-word)."
Hines then punched Andre, who collapsed to the floor.
"(The bartender) said he heard (the N-word) spoken several times," according to the police report. "He heard and saw Andre say it. (The bartender) thought he heard Jones say it."
Jones initially told police he didn't remember calling Hines the N-word, the report states.
"Instead he said that he stated, 'We are all (the N-word),'" the report states. "It was meant to be in a non-racist way, according to Jones.
"Jones then changed his story completely and said that he actually did not remember saying the (N-word)."
Based on those reports, Kalamaya said he thinks Andre should have been hit with the same harassment charge Jones faces.
"I don't understand how they could not charge Jim Andre," Kalamaya said. "When you watch the video, it's clear Jim Andre provoked my client. You can tell he said something, namely (the N-word)."
Further, he said Jones' statement that he used the epithet in a "non-racist" way is laughable.
"I find it hard to believe anybody could use that word in a non-racist way," Kalamaya said. "It was intended to be racist. It was racist."
The extent of Andre's injuries was unclear Tuesday. He was initially transferred to Grand Junction after the incident.
A message left Tuesday for Andre's lawyer was not returned. Jones also did not return a text message seeking comment.