AUSTELL, Ga. - Police say an attack that left three men battered in Douglas County was racially motivated.
John Willis appears before a judge on Thursday to face charges of aggravated assault and armed robbery, but detectives said the reason for the attack was not the money in the victims’ wallets.
The men were walking down Wren Circle in Austell last month when they were attacked.
“I think they were very lucky that one or more of them did not end up getting killed,” Sgt. John Sweat of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said.
Channel 2’s Tony Thomas spoke to one of the victims by phone.
“They instantly saw three white guys and started yelling,” the victim said.
He said he and two friends had just cut through a woodline and were walking up Wren Circle when they heard insults from a nearby duplex.
“They were yelling that this was their street, ‘This is our street, crackers. What do you have in your pockets, crackers? This is our street,’” the victim said.
The victim said the group just kept on walking until they got to the end of the street and they were attacked.
On Wednesday, a fugitive taskforce arrested Willis, 32, at the duplex. Off camera, Willis’ girlfriend told Thomas this is a case of mistaken identity.
Investigators said they found a shotgun and evidence linking Willis to the crime when they arrested him. Deputies said at least one more arrest is expected.
Detectives told Thomas they cannot charge the suspects with a hate crime because Georgia does not have a hate crime law. The federal government dows have a hate crime law, but it is unclear if this case will be looked at on the federal level.