Jury says security guard, restaurant owner not liable for beating

Published 4:02 pm Saturday, May 25, 2019

Jurors say a restaurant owner and security guard aren’t liable in the 2014 beating of two men outside a northeast Mississippi restaurant.

Clay County jurors found last week after a two-week trial that guard Annie Avant and Huddle House owner Litco Petroleum were not responsible for injuries to Ralph Weems IV and David Knighten received there in an Aug. 24 brawl, The Commercial Dispatch reported.

The men sought more than $9 million in damages, mostly to pay for Weems’ medical care and financial support. His lawyers said Weems has brain damage.

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The lawyers argued Huddle House had allowed an atmosphere of violence on the premises and responded ineffectively once the fight broke out.

“We were able to show that, in fact, Huddle House was proactive in hiring a security officer who had worked in the West Point Police Department and the sheriff’s office and had been there for two years,” said Columbus attorney John Brady, one of the attorneys representing Litco Petroleum. “The facts of the case showed that it was Weems’ conduct that caused the altercation, not the Huddle House or the security officer.”

Three men were convicted of aggravated assault — Courtez McMillian, 25, of Okolona, Marquavious McMillian, 34, of Aberdeen and Kent Davis, 26, of Okolona.

Police reports and trial testimony showed that Weems and Knighten, who are both white, had argued with a group of black men at a nearby Waffle House.

Knighten at the time told The Associated Press that someone had warned them that the black customers were upset by the killing of Michael Brown and it wasn’t a safe place for whites.

Weems and Knighten went to Huddle House, finding there three men they’d argued with, and witnesses said Weems began yelling profanities and racial slurs at people including Avant.

The five fought and Avant couldn’t break it up. Weems and Knighten were injured before police could arrive.

Clay County District Attorney Scott Colom found the assault wasn’t a premeditated racial attack or motivated by Weems’ military service, explaining why the three black men weren’t convicted of hate crimes.