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Man accusing Marines of hate crime used racial slur in earlier altercation

A 26-year-old, gay Savannah man who claims two Beaufort Marines committed a hate crime against him last weekend was accused earlier this year of using racial slurs and trading punches with a black truck driver at a Georgia gas station.

According to a Port Wentworth Police Department incident report, the man cut off the truck driver while driving on Old Highway 21 in Chatham County on Jan. 19 and made an obscene gesture at the trucker. The truck driver told officers he followed the man to a nearby gas station to confront him, and an argument ensued, during which the man called the truck driver a racial slur. When the man repeated the slur, the truck driver punched him in the face, and the man then punched the trucker in the mouth. The truck driver then drove off, the report said.

The man claimed the truck driver "grabbed him by the neck and hit him in his head with a closed fist multiple times" and "struck (him) in the head, stomach, back and abdomen," according to the report. The man said he eventually struck back in self defense.

Both men were cited for affray, or fighting in a public place, simple battery and aggressive driving, the report said.

According to court records, the charges were merged into one misdemeanor charge of affray. The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet typically do not name people charged with misdemeanor crimes.

The man paid a fine in Port Wentworth Municipal Court on Feb. 23.

INVESTIGATION CONTINUES

Savannah-Chatham Metro Police, the FBI and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort officials still are trying to piece together an incident involving the same man June 12 near the intersection of Congress and Bull Streets in downtown Savannah. They also are trying to determine whether pending misdemeanor battery charges against the two Marines accused of beating him should be elevated to federal hate-crime charges.

Witnesses told Savannah-Chatham Metro Police the two Marines thought the gay man winked at one of them. One of the Marines responded by punching the alleged victim in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious.

To determine the severity of the victim's injuries, authorities want to see his medical records, which the man has not yet released, said Gena Moore, a spokeswoman for Savannah-Chatham Metro Police.

"The extent of his injuries is going to be what determines whether the charges (against the Marines) stay the same or if they are elevated," Moore said.

Since being interviewed by authorities immediately after the incident, the alleged victim has referred requests for medical records and all questions from local and federal investigators to his attorney, Katherine Aderhold of Savannah, Moore said. Attempts Friday to reach Aderhold for comment were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, both Marines remain on barracks restriction while their commanding officers also investigate, according to Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, a spokesman at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

If military investigators deem the crime serious or if the charges in Georgia are elevated, the two could face court martial, McMeen said.

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