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Arrest made in fight involving white males and Black teens

2nd January 2018   ·   0 Comments

A 21-year-old Gramercy man was arrested Thursday on a count of second-degree battery in the beating of a teen on Christmas Eve at a bonfire on the levee in Gramercy, the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office said.

Jordan Hitt was booked into the St. James Parish jail in Convent, La. late Thursday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. The investigation into the fight that broke out between a group of white males and a group of Black youth is continuing, the Sheriff’s Office said.15-year-old-victim-010118

Earlier in the week, two African-American women told authorities in Gramercy, La. and St. James Parish that their sons were injured in what appears to be a racially motivated attack allegedly committed by several of their white classmates after a white girl was seen talking to a group of Black boys at the St. James Parish bonfire on Christmas eve.

St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. told The New Orleans Advocate that his office is still trying to gather details of the incident on the Mississippi River levee, but the mothers of the victims, who are cousins, told authorities and The New Orleans Advocate that the incident stems from the fact that some of the white students were upset about the white girl interacting with the Black teens.

La’Quesha Scott, 34, of Convent, La., and Lahoma Dumas, 38, of Gonzales, La., said their sons had gone to the bonfire celebration in Gramercy with a group of friends from Ascension Parish who had never seen the bonfires, which are traditionally lit along the Mississippi River levee to “light the way for Papa Noel.”

Scott told The New Orleans Advocate that the boys didn’t know anyone who was lighting a bonfire but went to watch, as many do. The annual holiday tradition with more than two centuries of history attracts thousands of visitors, many from out of town and even out of state.

Scott and Dumas said a group of white males began to attack the group of Black youths after the female spoke to them.

Neither mother attended the incident and said they are relying on the boys’ account.

“I wasn’t there,” Dumas said, “but I’m going off what all of them told me. They all have the same story, so …”

The Christmas Eve fight actually happened in the town of Gramercy but Sheriff Martin said Dec. 27 that he expected that his office, given that juveniles were part of the incident, would get involved.

Martin said he heard scanner traffic about the fight early Monday morning, Dec. 25, and spoke briefly with officials but heard nothing else until a mother of one of the victims called his office on Wednesday, Dec. 27.

The sheriff said he has assigned a juvenile deputy to the case and asked the officer to find out what Gramercy officers have done so far but his office is still playing catch-up.

“Based on what the parents told us, we’re obviously going to take it and start digging into it,” Martin told The New Orleans Advocate.

The sheriff said Gramercy officers early on told him they went to the scene of the reported fight shortly afterward but were unable to find anyone there.

Scott said she believes the fight had a racial element and made similar allegations in a Facebook post Wednesday.

In her post, Scott also put up pictures of Dumas’ son, 17-year-old Shannon Dumas Jr., showing severe injuries around his eyes, cheeks, scalp, as well as what appears to be a split earlobe. Scott claimed her nephew, Shannon Jr., had been hit with a Crown Royal bottle several times and knocked unconscious.

Scott said that her 15-year-old son suffered a sprained knee in the incident.

Scott said a Gramercy police officer took a report on the incident, which happened in the town limits, but, with the passage of a few days, she went to the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday.

She said authorities have been provided with the names of three of the alleged assailants. Lahoma Dumas said her son knew some of the boys from school.

Lahoma Dumas said she understands it is the holidays but said she is wondering if the police are taking the incident seriously since it happened Sunday night and they have the names of some suspects.

“That’s my point. Why haven’t they been arrested,” Lahoma Dumas said.

Scott said Gramercy police officers told her they are still working on the case.

The arrest of Jordan Hitt late Thursday afternoon came as St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin said investigators have found no evidence so far of a racial motive for the fight, which sent two Black teens to the hospital.

“I don’t see anything that supports it’s a racial/hate crime,” Martin said in an interview shortly before the announcement of Hitt’s arrest. “Prior to the fight, they were all up there having a nice time.”

He said investigators were still conducting interviews with the victims and witnesses on Thursday and the reason for the fight remains unclear.

“We all know it was a fight between young Black men and young white men, but we don’t know if it’s over hate,” the sheriff said. “We have not determined the motive of this fight.”

Sheriff Martin said he was aware of the statements the mothers have made, as well as posts on Facebook and social media saying the fight was racially driven.

“If there are some facts out there that support that, give us that,” Martin said, urging those who were present and have information about the incident to come forward.

The fight broke out shortly after midnight, in the first hours of Christmas Day on Monday, as the bonfires burned on the levee, Martin said.

Lahoma Dumas said Thursday that her son had to get 17 stitches, in multiple places on his face and head, including stitches to repair a split earlobe. His nose was also fractured, Dumas said, and she’ll be bringing him to a primary physician, as instructed at the hospital emergency room, once the swelling goes down.

There was no Christmas Day celebration at the Dumas home, she said.

“We left the hospital at 5:30 on Christmas day” morning, skipping the usual family gathering at her grandmother’s home, Dumas said.

Dumas, of Gonzales, said her son Shannon Jr., 17, is an 11th-grader at East Ascension High School and had previously attended Lutcher High in St. James Parish.

This article originally published in the January, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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