Cops: Some teens who attacked mentally challenged man also assaulted school principal
The suspects, ranging in age from 12 to 15, were taken into custody Tuesday afternoon.
Police say they believe that a group of youths who assaulted a mentally challenged man in Germantown last week — an attack seen on a video that has garnered millions of Facebook views — included teens who were involved in throwing a brick at a school principal last week in the same neighborhood.
Capt. Malachi Jones of Northwest Detectives said the four males involved in the unprovoked beating of Mark Smith, 38, who works at a Cheltenham ShopRite, were in custody Tuesday afternoon. The youths range in age from 12 to 15, according to Jones, who declined to identify them because they are juveniles. None had yet been charged.
Detectives believe that two of the youths also participated in the brick-throwing attack last Wednesday against Anthious Boone, principal of Fitler Academics Plus School, Jones said.
Jones called both incidents "senseless" and said those who threw punches or bricks could face charges including aggravated assault, simple assault, and reckless endangerment.
In the assault against Smith, Jones said, a 12-year-old boy threw the first punch, which connected with Smith's left jaw. Another youth punched Smith a second time after he retreated, according to video of the incident, while two other youths appeared to stand by and laugh. Jones said two of the youths were brothers.
Smith "was there minding his business … and he just gets blindsided," Jones said. The captain said that the incident happened May 29 but that police did not learn of it until the video made waves online Monday. Authorities were hoping to interview Smith on Tuesday, Jones said.
Days after Smith's beating — and just three blocks away, at Chelten Avenue and Knox Street — Boone, the principal, was hit in the face with a brick outside his school at 140 W. Seymour St. in Germantown, police said. Boone was trying to stop a fight between Fitler students and others from nearby Mastery Charter Schools, police said.
Jones said detectives think that one of the boys who stood by and watched the attack on Smith threw the brick at the principal and that the youth who threw the second punch against Smith was involved in the brick attack as well.
"We are aggressively working on this and want to bring justice to both of these complainants," Jones said.
As police continued their investigation, the video of the beating of Smith was gaining hundreds of thousands of views by the hour. By late Tuesday afternoon, it had accumulated 4.6 million views on Facebook.
Although the hearts of viewers around the world were going out to Smith, he long ago had won the hearts of his colleagues at the ShopRite at Chelternham and Ogontz Avenues, where he works cleaning, bagging, and helping customers, said Jeffrey Brown, owner of the store.
"He's a beloved member of our team," Brown said. "We're very distraught."
Brown said Smith works at the store as a customer service attendant one day a week and enjoys his job.
"He has a very nice personality and disposition," Brown said. "He's a very sweet man."
The video of the attack begins with Smith smiling. A young boy in a white T-shirt just out of Smith's view then sucker-punches him on the left side of his face. Smith has no chance to defend himself because he never sees the punch coming.
The 30-second video plays in slow motion, and the force of the boy's punch sends ripples through Smith's face. He reels in pain. A boy in the background laughs. Another goes in for a second punch.
It is unclear who posted the video online or when. Smith's coworker Gerald Andrews Sr. reposted it to his Facebook page Monday afternoon, asking others to share it to help identify the attackers. As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, it had been shared more than 133,000 times and had received more than 37,000 comments, including some in foreign languages.
Brown said a department manager at the store alerted him to the video Tuesday morning. He said that he and the staff were looking into what they can do to rally behind Smith.
"The staff is very upset because when you work in our environment with all different people, you sort of look after a young person like this," he said. "He's like part of your family, so to see something happen to such a nice person is very upsetting."
Brown said nobody on his staff recognized the youths in the video.
"They're very young boys, but obviously they have issues that have to be dealt with as a society, because who knows what will happen next if that's how they treat people," Brown said. "Mark is not confrontational. He's just nice. So why do that to him?"