After a week of turmoil involving a viral video of a police officer choking a man outside a Warsaw, North Carolina Waffle House, lawyers representing the man said Monday they are pursuing police dashcam footage and Waffle House surveillance video "to get to the truth."
They also want to investigate whether the Waffle House company has a pattern of discriminating against blacks and the LGBT community after other racially charged incidents around the country.
Anthony Wall, 22, of Fayetteville, stood between his two lawyers at a press conference on the steps of the Cumberland County Courthouse that included supporters and members of the state chapter of the NAACP.
Lawyers said they're also seeking video of Walls' "inappropriate transport" to the county jail with a police K-9 present in the vehicle.
“It was a gross violation of his civil and human rights,” said Benjamin Crump, one of Wall’s lawyers, a Lumberton native whose law firm is based in Tallahassee, Fla. He is known for his involvement in high-profile civil rights cases, notably the family of slain teen Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Wall also is represented by Fayetteville lawyer Allen Rogers.
In a video posted May 8, Warsaw police officer Frank Moss is seen choking Wall outside a Waffle House he went to after taking his 16-year-old sister to the prom.
But accounts of what happened that night in Warsaw differ between Wall and officials. The conversation leading up to the events in the video contain context that both Waffle House and Warsaw police say is needed to show that the actions taken were not race-related. Wall is black. The officer is white.
Waffle House defended the employees' decision to call the police.
“Our review of these incidents do not indicate race was an issue in the decision to call the police in either case,” Pat Warner, a Waffle House spokesperson, told The Fayetteville Observer last week. A Waffle House representative could not be reached for comment Monday.
A.J. Connors, the mayor of Warsaw, said in a video statement on Facebook last week that Wall initiated a fight at the restaurant and should have been arrested.
The Warsaw Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation are investigating, Connors said in the video.
Rogers said he hopes that when police arrive at a call that they can de-escalate a situation. That was the opposite of what happened last week in North Carolina, he said.
Wall, who was dressed in a tuxedo, said he and his sister argued with Waffle House employees after an employee cursed at Wall and his group for sitting at a table that hadn’t been cleaned yet. A waitress then called police, Wall said.
Crump said employees also used gay slurs when addressing Wall and were the ones to instigate the disturbance.
"No human being should be subjected to that, regardless of sexual orientation or ethnicity," Rogers said. "It’s wrong."
Wall said Moss slammed his head against the window and the pavement, also choking and lying on top of him when he could easily have been handcuffed.
“I had no idea we would be fighting on something as outrageous as we saw in that video,” Crump said, adding, “to someone who had his hands up.”
Connors, the mayor of Warsaw, a town about 70 miles southeast of Raleigh, said Wall became “disruptive” at the restaurant and was "irate and doing things and threatening employees" when police responded.
"We must understand that this young man had broke the law. He was there, he started a fight," Connors said. "An officer’s job is to make an arrest if they see fit or there’s a reason to. This officer did what he had to do to make sure.
"Now I want the public to understand that this is not a racially-motivated issue. This was just a young man who had broken the law, and a law enforcement officer arrested him. And unfortunately physical contact took place because he refused to cooperate or follow the — or obey the law."
Moss attempted to get Wall to go outside, Connors said.
“He put up a struggle and eventually he was brought outside, gotten outside and in the midst of things more physical contact took place," Connors said.
In the video, Wall can be heard shouting for the Moss' supervisor.
Wall has been charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct for arguing with the Waffle House employees.
Possible legal action
Crump and Rogers said they will sue to obtain the videos if they are not provided. Their investigation will include whether it is police policy to leave arrested suspects alone in cars with police dogs. Wall said he was left by himself, terrified, in an officer’s car while a dog snapped at his shoulder from the back seat.
“What’s that remind you of?” asked Rogers. “This is North Carolina in 2018.”
Crump also is representing Chikesia Clemons, who was thrown to the ground by police officers at a Waffle House in Saraland, Ala., which occurred in April.
He said Monday there are other events at Waffle House restaurants when blacks have been discriminated against and disrespected because of what he called "arbitrary policies."
He cited an incident at a Waffle House in Tulsa, Okla., when black teens were made to pay for their food in advance because employees thought they would leave without paying.
"This is a national corporate issue they need to address," Crump said. “If that’s not being prejudiced, I don’t know what is.”
Warner, in the Waffle House statement, referenced Wall’s admission of his interaction with Waffle House employees before his arrest. She also referenced the incident with Clemons.
“Both incidents escalated quickly, and our employees called the police because of safety concerns for their customers and themselves,” Warner wrote. “We train our employees to call the police whenever they feel in danger, or if they feel their customers are in danger.”
But Crump said it's hard to accept that the incident, and others like it, aren't racially motivated.
"We haven’t seen any video of young white people being battered and assaulted at Waffle Houses like it," he said.
NAACP District 9 Director Jimmy Buxton said the group is “gravely concerned about this issue and a lot of issues going on nationally. If they need our support, we will help them.”
The Warsaw Police Department has received phone calls and social media messages, some of which are threats against Moss, said Glenn Barfield, an attorney representing the officer.
"Officer (Frank) Moss has not been suspended or put on any formal administrative or investigative leave," Barfield said in an email to The News & Observer on May 14.
Camila Molina contributed to this story.