- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A 20-year-old man was charged Tuesday with assaulting a St. Louis light-rail commuter who reported he was attacked after being asked about last summer’s police shooting death of Michael Brown and the ensuing racial unrest in nearby Ferguson.

St. Louis prosecutors charged Ronald Williams with misdemeanor third-degree assault but declined to pursue the case as a hate crime as the 43-year-old victim had sought. Cellphone video of the attack went viral after it was posted on social media.

Williams, who is black, was arrested Monday along with a 15-year-old. The 15-year-old’s status was unclear Tuesday because he is by state law a juvenile.

The victim, who is white and described in the criminal complaint only as “D.A.,” told authorities that while riding the MetroLink train he declined a man’s request to use his cellphone. According to a police account, the stranger then asked the victim what he thought about “the Mike Brown situation,” referring to last August’s shooting death of the unarmed, black 18-year-old by then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. That shooting touched off racial unrest in Ferguson, including sometimes violent protests.

After the victim said he hadn’t given much thought about the Ferguson matter, police said, the man who inquired about the Brown case repeatedly punched the victim in the face as he tried to cover himself.

The video shows two other men joining in on the attack before the three attackers got off the train when it stopped. The victim declined medical treatment.

Tuesday’s criminal complaint and an attached affidavit by an investigator don’t mention the question about Brown.

Rachel Smith, a city prosecutor, told The Associated Press on Tuesday said she passed for now on pressing the case as a hate crime because it lacked a key, provable threshold for it under Missouri law - that the alleged attack involved racial or religious motivations.

The misdemeanor count carries a possible year in jail and $1,000 in fines; prosecuting the matter as a hate crime would enhance that punishment.

“At the present time, we are still evaluating motive,” she said. “I’ll just say that at this time, this is what we have.”

Smith credited tipsters with helping identify the suspects in an attack she suggested authorities can’t overlook.

“Someone simply minding their own business and riding public transportation, they have an expectation that they should travel without harassment or bodily harm,” she said. “We all need to view this situation seriously and as an affront to all of us.”

Williams’ bond was set at $2,500 cash.

Online court records don’t show whether Williams has an attorney. Williams has an unlisted home telephone number.

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