The FBI is investigating as a possible hate crime an incident in which a woman was beaten to the ground in front of her child at the entrance to a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Morrow, Georgia, south of Atlanta.
Troy Dale West Jr., of Poulan, Georgia, is facing charges including misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct after allegedly beating Army reservist Tashawnea Hill, 35, after the two had words just outside the Morrow, Georgia, restaurant the evening of September 9. Hill, an African-American, told police that West, 47, yelled racial epithets at her as the attack took place. Police say witnesses confirmed her account. The FBI has “initiated an investigation in the matter to determine if a civil rights violation occurred,” the agency said in a statement. Because the alleged incident happened in full view of Hill’s 7-year-old daughter, the Clayton County district attorney’s office added a felony charge of cruelty to children. “[The woman’s daughter] was visibly upset the night of the attack,” according to Capt. James Callaway of the Morrow Police Department, who said he was on the scene shortly after the alleged attack. A police report of the incident said Hill’s daughter was “crying uncontrollably and her body [was] shaking/trembling” from witnessing the attack. Hill told police the incident started when she and her daughter were entering the restaurant at the same time West and his wife were exiting. “The man slung open the door pretty hard and fast and I had to push my daughter out of the way,” Hill told CNN affiliate WSB-TV. “I turned to the man and I just said, ‘Excuse me sir, you need to watch yourself; you almost hit my daughter in the face.’ And from there it just went downhill,” Hill said. West, according to the police report, admitted striking Hill “after she spit on me and accused me of trying to hit her daughter with a door.” The police report says Hill denied spitting on West. Police say Hill stated that “West punched her in the left cheek, forehead, kicked her body in several places, and punched her head in many areas several times.” The Cracker Barrel’s manager told police he stepped between West and Hill to stop the alleged assault. Cracker Barrel spokeswoman Julie Davis said Wednesday that the restaurant was cooperating fully in the police investigation. “It’s just terrible when something like this happens anywhere, let alone in one of our stores,” Davis said. “It’s worth noting that Cracker Barrel employees did their best to assist Hill as soon as they became aware of the situation.” CNN’s efforts to reach West at his home and business were unsuccessful. Police say they had no indication West had an attorney. He is free on bond awaiting a hearing in the incident, the Clayton County jail said. Hill was treated at a hospital and released. The Clayton County district attorney has forwarded surveillance video of the incident to the FBI.