The Obama administration filed a federal hate-crimes charge Thursday against a man whom authorities accused of using the “knockout game” to target a black man, videotaping it, and then bragging about the assault to strangers.
The charge marks the first time the administration has taken action on a “knockout” case after the game became an Internet and media phenomenon. It chose a case in which the person accused is white, even though most other cases reported in the news have involved black assailants.
In this case, the man accused is 27-year-old Conrad Alvin Barrett, who the Justice Department says attacked a 79-year-old black man in Fulshear, Texas, just west of Houston. Justice Department officials said they brought the case to make a point about hate crimes.
“Suspected crimes of this nature will simply not be tolerated,” said Kenneth Magidson, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “Evidence of hate crimes will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted with the assistance of all our partners to the fullest extent of the law.”
Mr. Barrett’s attorney, George Parnham, told CNN that his client is on medication to treat bipolar disorder. Mr. Parnham said Mr. Barrett “is very sorry” for the victim.
He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of a hate crime under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Knockout, in which a participant tries to knock out a random person with one punch, has been in the news because of a spate of assaults in recent weeks.
The “game” has spawned a fierce cultural debate, with some commenters and law enforcement leaders disputing reports of a wave of attacks in New York, the District of Columbia and Midwestern cities such as St. Louis.
Many of the victims in news accounts have been white and their assailants have been black, but hate-crimes charges have been rare.
Last month, New York authorities charged one person with a hate crime because the target was a Jewish man.
The Texas case came to authorities’ attention after Mr. Barrett showed a video he took of the assault to a couple he didn’t know at a restaurant on Nov. 24, the FBI said in an affidavit submitted in the case.
One of the couple was an off-duty arson investigator and peace officer. After they left the restaurant, the couple reported the video to a police officer and identified Mr. Barrett. The police officer confiscated the smartphone containing the video and began an investigation that ended with a criminal complaint filed on Christmas Eve and the arrest Thursday.
According to the FBI statement, Mr. Barrett spent a week trying to work up the nerve to try knockout.
The FBI said that in a video from Nov. 24, the day of the assault, Mr. Barrett said he wanted “to see if I were to hit a black person, would this be nationally televised?” The video shows him stopping his car, approaching the 79-year-old man and asking, “How’s it going, man?” — before “a loud smack is heard and the victim falls to the ground.”
“Barrett laughs, says ‘knockout,’ and then flees,” the FBI affidavit says.
In other videos, the FBI said, Mr. Barrett uses racial epithets and says blacks “haven’t fully experienced the blessing of evolution.”
The victim of the assault, identified only as “R.C.,” lost three teeth, suffered a broken jaw and had two metal plates inserted into his mouth. Local police identified him as the victim, and he confirmed he had been walking down the street Nov. 24 when he was attacked.