Wayne presser

Wayne County Sheriff Jody Ashley talks to the media as Cruz Gray — the brother of beating victim Trevor Gray — looks on. For full video of the press conference, go to www.thewaynecountynews.com

(Photo by Mark Thornton)

Sheriff, family ask people to give statements about brutal beating; DA removes suspect’s relative from case

While Trevor Gray is coming to grips with not being able to eat solid food, law enforcement officials in Wayne County are looking for solid evidence to see if anyone other than his accused attackers will face criminal charges in his brutal beating.

Sheriff Jody Ashley and the victim’s brother, Cruz Gray, said they need statements from first-hand witnesses in order to arrest anyone else in the beating, which was captured on cellphone video and sparked outrage throughout the community and across the country.

“If you want something done about this, come to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and give a statement, don’t go to social media to complain,” Gray said during a press conference with Ashley on Tuesday. “The DA has to have evidence.”

Landon McCaa, 32, and Tomas Sion Brown, 28, have been charged with aggravated assault and are being held in the Wayne County jail on $500,000 bond each for the unprovoked attack and beating of Trevor Gray at McCaa’s residence in Buckatunna in the early morning hours of April 13. The victim is on the ground, being punched in the face by McCaa at least 17 times before the video stops. Brown then reached down as if to help him up, then punched him and kicked him some more, Cruz Gray said.

The video has been viewed thousands of times, and many commenters have said that the person who shot the video and those who are heard laughing in the background should face charges, too. But there’s not a law on the books to support a charge against them, District Attorney Kassie Coleman said in a statement that was read by Investigator Mike Mozingo.

For someone to be charged as an accessory before the fact of a crime, “he must do something that will incite, encourage or assist the actual perpetrator in the commission of the crime,” Coleman wrote. “Presence alone” is not enough to warrant a charge and no other charges will be filed in the case “unless contrary evidence is found,” she added.

“Our investigation has revealed that the man who filmed the attack did nothing to incite, encourage or assist the attackers; there is also no evidence that he assisted in planning the attack,” she wrote. “He was a bystander who did not have a duty to act in defense of the victim.”

Ashley said his investigators know who shot the video — noting that it was a man, not a woman, as has been spread across Facebook — and they know the woman who posted it to social media and they know who is laughing in the background. A half-dozen or so people have been interviewed by WCSD investigators, he said.

Ashley has also reached out to the FBI to investigate the motive of the beating, because it’s been said that the perpetrators beat the victim because they believed he was gay. So far, there’s no solid information to support that claim. If there is evidence that’s the motive, the suspects could face an enhanced sentence of up to 40 years in prison, if they are found guilty. Aggravated assault carries a maximum of 20 years.

“Our legislature has not mandated a duty to act/rescue when a person sees a crime or emergency occurring,” Coleman wrote. “While we may disagree with the motivations or morality of the decision to film the attack rather than assist the victim, we must follow the law.”

The legislature might want to consider addressing the lack of a law against that behavior, Ashley said, suggesting that it be named in honor of Trevor Gray.

Contacted after the press conference, Coleman said lawmakers would be “hard-pressed” to make it a crime to film an unlawful act.

“That’s our best evidence in this case,” she said of the video. “If not for the video, they could claim that it was just a drunken barfight. The video of the attack provided concrete evidence of guilt for the persons charged with aggravated assault.”

She also described some scenarios in which people may not be able to intervene — such as they have a child with them at the time — but a video could provide the evidence that’s needed to get a conviction.

“We wouldn’t want to do anything to deter that,” she said.

The laughing in the background while the beating is going on “shows depravity,” but it’s not a crime, she said.

The filming would be considered a component of the crime if it was done to encourage the crime, such as gang activity that’s recorded for an initiation or to make violent pornography. But in this case, the filmer does nothing to incite or encourage the crime, she said.

Coleman said she has not contacted the FBI for assistance because there is no evidence that hate was the motive in the beating.

“If there was proof, it would be presented,” she said.

Coleman confirmed that her investigator, Shane McIlwain, is the half-brother of one of the suspects, but “he’s not on the case,” she said. McIlwain let her know of the relationship immediately, Coleman said, so she contacted the Attorney General’s Office — where she once worked — for assistance with the parts of the investigation that McIlwain would have handled.

“We didn’t want there to be a perception of impropriety,” she said.

Cruz Gray, who is an attorney in Laurel, said he and his family support the sheriff’s department and the DA’s office in everything that’s being done — and not done.

“They’re under pressure from the public because it’s an emotionally charged case,” he said.

He wants the suspects prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law,” but he understands better than most the limitations of the law.

“Laws can’t be created situationally,” he said. “You can’t base laws on a single event.”

That’s why he and Ashley are pleading for people with information about the case to come forward.

Ashley admitted to being frustrated with the “social media investigation” by so many people posting who should be arrested and why. 

“We can’t just throw people in the back of the patrol car without evidence,” he said.

Cruz Gray said that his brother is at their parents’ home, recovering after getting surgery to repair breaks to his jaw on the left side and down the middle. His mouth will be wired shut for about six weeks.

“Trevor is doing well, all things considered,” his brother said. “The hardest thing is the realization that he won’t be able to have solid food for the next six weeks or so.”

His spirit, and the spirit of the family, have been lifted by the outpouring of support and kindness from friends and strangers, he said. More than $12,500 was raised to cover the costs of his surgery, which was not covered by insurance.

When asked what his brother believes should happen to his attackers, Cruz Gray said, “Trevor is not in a place to talk about that yet. He’s focusing on his recovery.”

To those who filmed and laughed during the beating of his brother for entertainment, Cruz Gray had a simple message: “Evolve. Change yourself. Be better.”

There was one bright spot from that morning in Buckatunna. An unidentified man from Mobile stopped the attackers and held them back while Trevor Gray made his escape.

“I appreciate him being a man and stepping forward,” Ashley said.

Ashley said his department will continue to investigate the case and continue to pray for the family of the victim.

“We’re not ruling out anything,” he said. “No stone will be unturned.”

Without the threat of being charged hanging over their heads, how can witnesses be compelled to talk to investigators, Cruz Gray was asked.

“There’s always an incentive to tell the truth,” he said. “Lying is a crime. The truth will find it’s way out eventually. The wheels of justice move slowly, but you don’t want to be caught underneath them.”

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