August 28, 2014 10:45:12 AM
WEST POINT -- The father of a man involved in a weekend beating that has brought national attention to West Point is voicing his support for the town's police department.
Ralph Weems III told The Dispatch on Wednesday he is confident in local law enforcement's investigation into the incident early Saturday that left his son in a coma.
"I have total faith in the investigation and the department," Weems said.
He declined to comment further.
Ralph Weems IV, a 32-year-old former Marine, was found unresponsive at about 2:30 a.m. in the Huddle House parking lot along Highway 45 Alternate. A spokesperson with North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, where Weems remains, could not be reached for comment this morning.
On Monday, Courtez McMillian, 22, was arrested for aggravated assault for his alleged role in the incident. West Point Police Chief Tim Brinkley on Wednesday said he expects at least one more arrest to be made in the case.
He has asked the FBI and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to assist.
"We wanted to draw on the resources to help process the evidence in a case like this, especially since it has the potential to be a high profile case, nationally," Brinkley said, adding that the district attorney's office has been briefed on the case.
Weems and another man had been at the Waffle House on Highway 45 Alternate before the fight, according to law enforcement. The other man, David Knighten, told The Associated Press that at Waffle House, they were told it was not safe for whites because of the shooting death of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9. Weems and Knighten then went to Huddle House, where a fight occurred.
The two restaurants are less than a mile apart.
Knighten told The Associated Press that he and Weems were beaten because they are white. McMillian is black. Knighten claimed a group of approximately 20 people attacked Weems.
While Brinkley would not comment on the specifics of the case, he said evidence does not support the majority of witness claims being reported.
"A lot, a whole lot, of what has been stated by these media sources that is reported by somebody else, is not accurate," Brinkley said. "The evidence does not support that."
Brinkley feels individuals commenting on social media are trying to frame it as a racially motivated attack.
"There is this element out here that wants to drag the race element into it and get away from what actually happened," the chief said. "They want to make it all about the race and none about the aggravated assault."
Signs outside the Waffle House warn patrons that surveillance cameras are in use. Brinkley said his department is reviewing surveillance tapes.
The police chief has received approximately 40 emails from around the country, asking why the assault wasn't being investigated as a hate crime. Brinkley, who said he is investigating the beating the same way he would any aggravated assault, noted that only a grand jury has the power to elevate an assault to a hate crime.
West Point mayor Robbie Robinson, a distant cousin of the victim who often attends sporting events with Ralph Weems III, said the town of roughly 11,000 residents has a strong sense of community.
Brinkley and Robinson both feel the Saturday morning altercation was an "isolated incident."
While outside voices are "sensationalizing things," it's business as usual in the town, according to Robinson.
"When you walk around town, speak to the people here, you'll find that they have the same attitudes about our town that they did before all of this happened," he said. "The atmosphere here isn't any different. So we're not anticipating any issues or trouble with people who live here, who are from this community.
"What we've got to do is be calm and reasonable about this, let law enforcement do their job, let the prosecution do their job and the judicial system do their job," Robinson said. "What we need to worry about is the community...I wouldn't want to live anywhere else."
Scott Reed, a business owner and president of the Main Street Association, said he is proud to call West Point home.
"I've lived here 35 years and nothing like this has ever happened before," he said. "Both of those restaurants are places I frequently attend and I never feel unsafe. It's unfortunate that it's cast such a negative light on West Point because that's not the kind of town that we are. We're a town that's accepting of people."
This weekend West Point will host the Howlin' Wolf and Prairie Arts Festival, which are annual events. Robinson is worried negative attention will outshine the positive attributes West Point has to offer.
"I feel that it may have a slight negative impact, how much we don't know, but we want to assure people that things are fine," he said. "The perpetrators of the crime appear to be all outside the county. It happened that the victim is from West Point."
Referring to the upcoming Howlin' Wolf Festival and Prairie Arts Festival, Robinson said, "We've got a big positive event coming up this weekend and we're going to be fine."
Melanie Busby, who lives in the town, has relatives coming to West Point for the weekend festivals. She said she, nor her family members, are concerned about safety.
"I just think our community is a safe place," Busby said. "The police are doing a good job to make our community safe, so I'm not worried."
Robinson encouraged people to come to the weekend festival, saying, "I want them to feel like we are a quintessential sleepy little Southern town who has a strong sense of community, who has grown together. We've come through some hard times just like the South has, but we've morphed into a community that respects each other. Oh, we have our differences and locally, being a politician, that goes back to politics, it doesn't go back to race."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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