Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” riverboat deckhand Dameion Pickett recounted what he described as a “racially motivated attack” which unfolded when the Harriott II boat was blocked from docking in its designated space.
Mr Pickett said that he was “just doing my job” and was “just in shock” when he was assaulted.
“I didn’t expect this to happen at work today,” Mr Pickett recalled. “I was just expecting another peaceful, nice cruise.”
Mr Pickett explained that “we could have docked, but we would end up hitting a couple of those boats and be responsible for it”.
“Everybody was yelling, ‘Could y’all move y’all boat?’” Mr Pickett said, echoing what Captain Jim Kitrell previously said about the encounter that culminated in five people being arrested.
Capt Kitrell explained last month that he had gently asked the pontoon boat owners to move.
“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,’” he said
After waiting 45 minutes to dock the Harriott II, which was carrying 227 passengers, and following many calls over the PA system asking the pontoon boat owners to move their vessel, the requests still went ignored, Mr Pickett said.
This then prompted Mr Pickett, “by the captain’s orders,” to move the pontoon boat himself.
“Really just moved it about one, two, four steps to the right, that’s it,” he explained.
“I was, like, ‘I’m just doing my job … After we dock, we don’t mind y’all staying there but not at this time while we’re trying to dock.’”
However, the pontoon boat owners did not take it well. A fight ensued, with one of the members of the pontoon boat throwing fists at the deckhand. The brawl only grew from there, including one man caught on camera hitting people over the head with a folding chair.
“This man just put his hand on me. I was, like … it’s my job, but I’m still defending myself at the same time. So when he touched me, I was, like, ‘It’s on,’” Mr Pickett said, explaining that he had to defend himself.
Aaren Hamilton-Rudolph, 16, was seen in footage swimming to the dock to defend Mr Pickett.
Mr Hamilton-Rudolph, who was into his second week on the job, told GMA that he felt compelled to help Mr Pickett.
“Everybody was just recording. No one helped,” he said.
“So I couldn’t just watch and sit around and just let him get beat on while everybody else is just recording and watching.”
Videos of the incident went viral, as it appeared that the white pontoon boat owners were attacking Mr Pickett, a Black man, fueling claims that the incident was racially motivated.
Capt Kitrell originally said: “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.”
However, he later partially walked back on that claim, citing that most of the brawl appeared not to fall along racial lines.
The deckhand said that “some nasty words” were yelled at him during the attack.
Roshein “RahRah” Carlton, Mr Pickett’s coworker who also came to his defence, said that he also heard “a lot of racial slurs” being thrown around during the incident.
The police at the time said that they did not find enough evidence to support hate crime charges.
Five people – Richard Roberts, 48, Zachery Shipman, 25, Allen Todd, 23, Mary Todd, 21, and Reggie Ray, 42 – were arrested and charged in connection to the incident. The former four were charged with assault in the third degree, while Mr Ray was charged with disorderly conduct. They have all pleaded not guilty.
An attorney for Mr Ray, the only Black person charged in the brawl, told ABC News that his client had a “limited role” in the incident and was “involuntarily roped into the disorderly conduct initiated by a violent white mob.”
Mr Pickett told GMA that he “had a responsibility” to get the passengers back to shore.
“I was still trying to get that boat in while the fight was still going on. I’m still telling the captain, ‘We gotta get these folks here safely to this dock,’” he said.
Asked how he was doing after the incident, Mr Pickett said: “I’m just a little sore, little bumps and bruises here and there. But I’m here by the grace of God.”