Protesters have called for hate crime charges against the white man seen on video last month brutally beating a Black woman in Dallas, but the man’s attorney has dismissed those calls.
Despite damning video evidence, the attorney representing Austin Shuffield claimed that there’s no proof that racism played a role in his client’s assault of 24-year-old L’Daijohnique Lee, the Dallas Morning News reported Monday.
As the prosecutor weighs its legal options against the white bartender, many were still fuming over the injustice last week when the police charged Lee with felony criminal mischief for damaging Shuffield’s pickup truck after the violent assault.
In the fateful encounter caught on video that has since gone viral, Shuffield appears to hold a gun in one hand as he slaps away Lee’s cellphone. She was reportedly attempting to call 911. Lee responded to Shuffield’s aggression by shoving him away, but he retaliated by punching her multiple times.
Here’s a video clip that contains graphic content.
Shuffield was released on $2,000 bond the same day he was locked up for attacking Lee. He was initially charged with misdemeanor assault. After angry public protests about the slap on the wrist, the police upgraded the charges to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony, and unlawfully carrying a weapon.
Merritt said there’s a “strong basis” for Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot to seek a hate crime enhancement against Shuffield based on his racial slur, the newspaper said. Hate crime enhancements increase punishment if a defendant is found guilty of the original crime.
Shuffield’s attorney, JR Cook, is betting on Merritt not being able to prove that his client used the slur. Meanwhile, Creuzot’s office has said it’s too soon to consider whether prosecutors will seek the enhancement against Shuffield.
Dallas prosecutors have rarely pursued enhanced charges, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis. Since 2015, they’ve only sought to increase punishments for crimes in 11 cases. Only one case was successful, which involved the prosecution of a Black man who pushed a white woman off a scooter.
Still, this case has many people saying that full justice will be served only if Shuffield is charged with a hate crime.