Witnesses: Racial slur preceded Snowmass bar punch that led to assault charge
The Aspen Times
Witnesses told police a 63-year-old local man who sustained serious injuries after he was punched in a Snowmass Village bar last month called the black man who hit him a racial epithet, according to a police report.
Further, Jim Andre wasn’t the only person at Zane’s Tavern that night to make racist statements to Brandon Hines, the 20-year-old Wisconsin man charged with assaulting Andre, the report states. Another local man also allegedly said something racist to Hines, according to police.
“I talked to several witnesses that believe Andre to be the one responsible and deserved to get punched for the racist remarks that he made,” Snowmass police Officer Andrew Rushing wrote in his report.
Ryan Kalamaya, an Aspen lawyer who represents Hines, said his client was merely defending himself against a verbal racist attack by two local residents.
“He was not expecting to come to Snowmass Village on closing day and have the most racist, threatening, derogatory experience of his life happen at Zane’s Tavern,” Kalamaya said. “I’ve never heard of anything so racist here.”
Police were called to Zane’s just before midnight April 13 and found Andre on the floor of the bar holding his head, according to the police report. Andre’s mouth was bleeding and he was “very unbalanced and having a hard time standing,” the report states.
Andre told the officer he was fine and just wanted to go home. He then said he didn’t want to hang out inside the bar, walked outside “only to fall over and hit the back of his head in a whiplashing motion on the concrete floor just outside the bar,” according to the report.
Andre was unable to tell officers what happened before he was taken to the hospital, the report states.
The bartender working that night, however, was crystal clear about what he saw, according to the report.
He told police that a 40-year-old local man first approached Hines and his two white friends, who were sitting at the bar, and “made some racist remarks to the three,” the report states.
Hines then knocked the 40-year-old man’s hat off, spilled his drink and slapped him across the face, according to the report.
“Andre saw this action and came over to the group to defend (the local man),” according to the bartender’s observations detailed in the police report. “While defending (the local man), Andre called Brandon (the N-word).”
Hines then punched Andre and Andre collapsed, the report states.
“(The bartender) said he heard (the N-word) spoken several times,” according to the police report. “He heard and saw Andre say it. (The bartender) thought he heard (the 40-year-old local man) say it.”
The local man initially told police he didn’t remember calling Hines the N-word, the report states.
“Instead he said that he stated, ‘We are all (the N-word),’” the report states. “It was meant to be in a non-racist way, according to (the local man).
“(The local man) then changed his story completely and said that he actually did not remember saying the (N-word).”
When officers arrived, another man who’d been at the bar and works at a Snowmass Village restaurant was “having serious words” with the 40-year-old local man and told police they should talk to that man “about his racial conversations,” according to a report by Officer Jason Powell.
Finally, one of Hines’ friends told police that both the local man and Andre repeatedly called Hines the n-word, according to Rushing’s report.
Kalamaya said that according to one of Hines’ friends, the 40-year-old local man initially approached the men at the bar and brought up the National Brotherhood of Skiers, a black ski club. However, instead of calling the group by its given name, the man referred to it as “N-word be slipping,” Kalamaya said.
That statement provoked Hines’ to knock the man’s cap off and spill his drink, he said. Andre then stepped in, used the epithet, lunged at Hines and Hines hit him, Kalamaya said.
Hines told Kalamaya he’s never been in a fight before and has never hit anyone, he said.
“But also he’s never been in such a hostile and offensive and threatening environment,” Kalamaya said. “He believes he was acting in self defense.”
Hines has been charged with misdemeanor assault, though prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz said she’s requested more information about the case and Andre’s injuries. The severity of an assault charge generally depends on the seriousness of the assaulted person’s injuries.
Andre, who worked at Pinon’s restaurant in Aspen, was initially taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, then later flown to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, according to the police reports. A GoFundMe page set up to help pay for his medical expenses says he’s been in the hospital ever since, though a St. Mary’s employee said Thursday Andre is no longer a patient there.
“While he is stable, he suffers from memory loss, severe disorientation and agitation,” according to the Gofundme page. “He sustained multiple fractures to his skull resulting in brain damage.
“It is unclear what the prognosis is at this time, however we are all hopeful that as he heals, the effects of the injury will be reversed and his overall mental health will greatly improve.”
Andre was supposed to be moved soon to a rehabilitation unit for therapy, the site states.
Andre’s GoFundMe page had raised $17,235 as of Thursday evening. Attempts to reach the person who started the GoFundMe page were not successful.
However, Bob Morris, a friend of Andre’s, said another friend who recently visited Andre in the hospital reported that Andre recognized the man but didn’t know he was in the hospital. Morris, an Aspen resident, said he’s known Andre for years as a kind, mellow man.
“He’s a real nice guy,” he said. “I’ve never seen him lose his temper. He’s not an aggressive guy.”
Morris said he’s never heard Andre make a racist statement, either.
“This guy was just a normal, upstanding, right-on guy,” Morris said. “He worked hard, he did well, he was just a good guy.”