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Beating of Alabama man not seen as hate crime, despite claim 'Trayvon' invoked

 

A racially charged beating of a white Alabama man by a throng of African-Americans is not being investigated as a hate crime, despite one witness' claim that she heard an assailant exclaim: "Now that's justice for Trayvon."

Matthew Owens, of Mobile, Ala., was assaulted with baseball bats, paint cans and other weapons at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday after telling a group of children to stop playing basketball in the middle of Delmar Drive, according to Ashley Rains, public information officer for the Mobile Police Department.

After the children left the area, a group of adults armed with weapons returned and confronted Owens, 40, in his front yard, where he was assaulted. Owens' sister, Ashley Parker, told WKRG she witnessed the attack and that there were as many as 20 assailants. Parker said she overheard one of them say, "Now that's justice for Trayvon."

Asked if the incident was being investigated as a hate crime, Rains replied: "No, it's not. It's being investigated as an assault." Eugene A. Seidel, first assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, declined to comment on the case when reached by FoxNews.com.

"Our policy is not to comment one way or another about cases," Seidel said when asked if his office has inquired about the incident. "All I can say is no comment."

The incident occurred in a middle-class neighborhood in Mobile, on a street where residents have often been at odds with teens who block the roadway to play pickup basketball, WKRG reported. Owens has a criminal record that includes arrests for domestic assault, driving under the influence and public intoxication.

Trayvon Martin, 17, is the unarmed teenager who was fatally shot Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. George Zimmerman, who has been charged with second-degree murder in Martin's death, went into hiding Monday as he awaits trial. Emotions ran high as six weeks passed before Zimmerman was charged, leading many African-American community leaders to decry what they perceived as racism in the justice system.

"We have not been able to find any other witness that can back that statement up."

- Ashley Rains, Mobile Police Department

Rains said Parker's statement could not be independently corroborated as of Tuesday. Attempts to reach Parker -- who reportedly characterized the assault as the "scariest thing" she ever witnessed -- were unsuccessful.

"We have not been able to find any other witness that can back that statement up," Rains told FoxNews.com. "It's unknown right now if that was said."

Owens, who regained consciousness early Tuesday, remains in serious condition at the University of South Alabama Medical Center, Rains said.

It remains unclear how many people participated in the assault, but Rains said it involved multiple assailants. The relationship -- if any -- between the children and the alleged perpetrators is also unclear, Rains said.

"We've spoken to the victim and we're doing our best to put together a suspect list and identify any suspects that were in the assault," she said.

Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call the Mobile Police Department at (251) 208-7211.

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