Mouat, 42, then grabbed a bike lock and struck Freelon, 18, in the face, said several witnesses. The blow knocked out several of Freelon’s teeth and shattered his jaw.
Federal prosecutors charged Mouat on Tuesday with a hate crime for “willfully causing bodily injury to an African-American teenager because of the teenager’s race.” If convicted, Mouat faces up to 10 years in prison.
The case is the latest hate-crime charge filed by federal prosecutors this year against White suspects accused of attacking Black people in racially charged assaults. Federal prosecutors charged a man in September for allegedly stabbing a Black man in Oregon, unprovoked, several times last December. A woman in Queens, who is accused of throwing a glass bottle at a Black woman who was jogging and yelling “go back to Africa” in August, also received hate-crime charges last month.
At least four people witnessed the alleged assault in Michigan, according to the criminal complaint written by Sean D. Nicol, a special agent with the FBI’s Detroit Division in Ann Arbor, Mich.
It was the evening of June 6, and Freelon and his two friends had been walking in William C. Sterling State Park, a public park with a lakeside beach about 35 miles south of Detroit, and listening to music on a portable speaker.
Two witnesses told the investigator that they heard a White man, later identified by police as Mouat, loudly complaining about the music, calling the boys the n-word and “monsters.”
“These n------ are playing gang music,” Mouat said, according to one of the witnesses. “I want to hit them with this cooler.” And, “I wish someone would say something to me so I can beat them.”
The second witness observed Mouat, who was walking with his family, approach the boys in the parking lot. The witness heard the man threaten to “bash their heads in if they don’t turn [their music] down,” he told the investigator.
“Black lives don’t matter,” Mouat said.
One of Freelon’s friends, who is also cited as a witness in the criminal complaint, responded to Mouat’s aggressive comments.
“We’ll kick your a--,” Freelon’s friend said.
Mouat then began walking away and said, “I’ve got something for you in my car.”
At that point, Freelon’s friend thought the man was leaving with his family, he told the investigator. But a fourth witness saw Mouat walk to a nearby minivan, uttering, “I’ll show you!” and then retrieve a chain bike lock.
Simultaneously, Freelon separated from his friends and started walking toward his car. Mouat then yelled, “Hey,” to get Freelon’s attention and promptly swung the lock at his face, striking his jaw and causing him to fall to the ground. Mouat swung the object again, but missed, according to a witness. Moments later, police arrived.
A lawyer for Mouat did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Freelon was taken to the hospital by an ambulance, and many in the community rallied around him. Freelon’s cousin Kiara Phillips created a GoFundMe that raised more than $18,000, and a local dentist fixed Freelon’s teeth for free. Demonstrators holding “Justice for Devin” signs gathered outside the county courthouse on June 9, the day Mouat was arraigned, the Ionia Sentinel-Standard reported.
Phillips said the incident happened days before Freelon graduated from high school.
“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,” Phillips said.