July 23, 2006 -- A cook at a sports bar says racial insults were hurled in both directions in the minutes leading up to an altercation that has sparked a criminal investigation into several members of the Durham, N.C., Police Department, including the lead detective in a rape investigation involving Duke University lacrosse players.
Rene Dennis Thomas, a cook at Blinco's Sports Bar and Restaurant in Raleigh, N.C., said the incident was a misunderstanding that turned into an assault. He offered his account to ABC News' Law & Justice Unit Sunday night.
Neither the Durham Police Department spokeswoman nor the Raleigh Police Department spokesman immediately returned calls seeking comment on Thomas's account, and a police officer allegedly involved declined to comment.
Earlier, the Durham spokeswoman declined to name the police under internal investigation in the incident. But she confirmed to ABC News that two cops investigating the Duke rape case, including the lead detective, were placed on administrative duty on Friday, the day after the incident was reported to Raleigh police.
Three white Duke lacrosse players were charged last spring with rape and kidnapping for an alleged attack on an exotic dancer in which racial slurs were said to have been hurled at the woman, an African American. All three men have vigorously declared their innocence, in and outside of court.''
The Raleigh police emphasized that no charges had yet been filed.
Thomas said he stepped out the back door of the restaurant Thursday night and watched a black Nissan pickup screech out of the parking lot, and that he yelled "You go!'' and "Woo-hoo!" in support, but that it was misunderstood by the suspects -- five or six men later identified to him by his manager as Durham police officers and regulars at the bar.
"F--- you, n-----!" Thomas said the initial perpetrator responded.
"F--- you, cracker!'' Thomas said he replied.
The car stopped, he said, and the man who allegedly screamed the epithet got out. Thomas said the man walked over to him, poked him on the shoulder with his finger, and said, "You don't know what you're getting into, boy."
Thomas said he held his ground as three more cars pulled up and a total of five or six men got out. Thomas said he suggested to the initial perpetrator that a fight was imminent.
"I don't have to do it,'' the man allegedly said. "He's going to do it,'' and pointed to the driver of the Nissan.
Thomas described the initial perpetrator as about 6'1", medium build, bald and with no facial hair. He described the driver as a "big guy", 5'8", at least 250 pounds, who then took off his shirt, "rushes at me, swings at me, misses and falls down.''
From there, Thomas claimed, the five or six men moved in and assaulted him with their hands and at least one foot as he dropped into a "fetal position.''
Thomas said the assault lasted no more than a "few seconds'' and that he was not seriously injured.
He said "someone'' yelled, "Let's get out of here; this guy is not worth it,'' and they began to disperse. Thomas said one of the men was African American, and that he turned to the man and asked "what's up'' with the assault.
"It's not my fault,'' he said the man responded. "I just work with these guys. They're drunk.''
Thomas acknowledged that he had "jack-jawed," or mouthed off, to the men and that he "had it coming to me.''
He said he only learned later that the men were police officers and that his manager insisted on contacting the Raleigh Police Department.
"Oh boy,'' he said to himself. "Here we go.''