With days left before he was set to graduate from high school, Devin Freelon and his friends decided to visit Sterling State Park in Michigan, a recreational park on the lip of Lake Erie, just an hour away from Detroit. They were playing music in the parking lot when a white man they had never met before began taunting and hurling racial slurs across the parking lot at them.
“Niggers don’t belong on this beach,” witnesses reported hearing the man say, as well as, “Black lives don’t matter.”
The June 6 confrontation ended with the man, 42-year-old Lee James Mouat, striking the 18-year-old Freelon across the face with a bike chain lock, knocking out several of his teeth and causing facial fractures and lesions. This week, federal prosecutors charged Mouat with a hate crime for “willfully causing bodily injury to an African-American teenager because of the teenager’s race.”
Mouat had already been charged just days after the attack on charges of ethnic intimidation, assault with intent to do great bodily harm and assault with a dangerous weapon, reports the local news outlet Click on Detroit. With the federal hate crime charge, Mouat faces an additional 10 years in prison.
Four witnesses, including one of Freelon’s friends, spoke to federal investigators about the assault. In each of their accounts, Mouat—who was with his family at the time—was the clear aggressor.
One witness, who observed Mouat as he was walking with his family toward the parking lot, said the man was agitated by music the young men were playing.
“These niggers are playing gang music,” the witness reported overhearing Mouat say. “I want to hit them with this cooler.” Mouat also wished the young men, all of whom were Black, would say something to him so he could beat them.
Mouat continued to yell slurs and threats at the group across the parking lot until they began yelling back, after which Mouat approached them. A friend of Freelon’s said they thought Mouat was gearing up to fight them; when they threatened to “kick [his] ass,” Mouat complained that one person fighting three people wasn’t fair, the witness said. Mouat then turned to go back to his vehicle, saying “I’ve got something for you in my car.”
Freelon grabbed a portable speaker from the group’s vehicle and was walking up to his friends when Mouat returned, taking a chain bike lock and striking the teenager across the face with it. He also attempted to hit another member of the group but missed. Within moments, police were on the scene to break up the confrontation.
After the attack, Freelon’s community rallied around him, reports the Washington Post. His cousin Kiara Phillips started a GoFundMe, which raised more than $18,000, and a local dentist fixed Freelon’s teeth for free.
But the pain of the attack lingers, marring what was supposed to be a time of celebration. Phillips told the Post, “This year has already taken a lot from him as a senior and as an African American, with the tension going on in America currently. It’s a shame the hate in this world has taken another thing from him.”