Man charged with hate crime for "knockout" game punch

By Jace Larson - Investigative Reporter

KATY - Local 2 Investigates confirmed a man suspected of taking part in the "knockout game" has been charged with a hate crime for allegedly punching and breaking the jaw of an elderly African American man.

FBI agents arrested Conrad A. Barrett, 27, Thursday morning. He is expected to appear in federal court later on Thursday.

Barrett allegedly hit the man with such force that the man immediately fell to he ground. Barrett then laughed and said "knockout," as he ran to his car.

The attack happened November 24 in a neighborhood near Katy Mills Mall.

Officials said the victim suffered two jaw fractures and was hospitalized for several days.

Federal court documents charge Barrett with one count of violating the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The federal complaint alleges Barrett attacked the elderly man because of the man's race and color in what Barrett called a "knockout."

Federal court documents say Barrett recorded several cell phone videos where he's heard driving around the mall working up the "courage" to choose a victim and follow through with a knockout.

Barrett allegedly used his cell phone to record himself attacking the man and then showed the video to others. The complaint alleges Barrett recorded several videos, and in at least one made a racial slur.

Police say they discovered him when he walked up to an off duty member of the fire department and started bragging about the attack and even showed his cell phone videos.

"Suspected crimes of this nature will simply not be tolerated," said United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson in a statement. "Evidence of hate crimes will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted with the assistance of all our partners to the fullest extent of the law."

The "knockout game" is an assault in which an assailant aims to knock out an unsuspecting victim with one punch.

Community Activist Quanell X says this case has raised many eyebrows because the attacker went after a defenseless man... and appears to have been motivated by race.

"You didn't target some 18-year-old, some 19-year-old, somebody who can defend themselves. You go target some elderly guy.  Someone who can defend himself that makes you a punk in my eyes. But now guess what; he'll be going to a federal prison institution to what in there, with that kind of time that he has, what he's charged with, there are many in there that are standing in line, waiting on him to play the knock out game with them," said Quanell X.

In news release, the United States Attorney's Office says Barrett said in one of the videos that "the plan is to see if I were to hit a black person, would this be nationally televised?"

If Barrett is convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Barret's attorney says if his client is involved, it could be due to mental illness. He said Barret is on three drugs for bi-polar disorder.

The attorney for the 79-year-old victim said he was not releasing his client's name out of concern for his safety. Attorney O'Neil Williams said  the man's scars are healing and he still has stitches.

He said the man is scared, afraid and shaken.  He said the physical wounds will heal, but he may never heal emotionally.  Williams also said there could be neurological damage.  Williams said his client is thankful for the arrest.

Thursday's filing is only the second time federal prosecutors have filed a hate crime charge in the Southern District of Houston. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was enacted in October 2009.

"I think it sends the message that they're taking this very seriously," said Dena Marks of the Anti-Defamation League. She told Local 2,  "This sort of thing shouldn't be tolerated and that they're going to investigate it thoroughly and they're going to prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law."

Federal prosecutors filed the charge in an Aug. 2011 assault in downtown Houston. Three white men approached a victim as he waited at a bus stop.   At least one defendant referred to the victim using a racial slur. The defendants then surrounded and attacked the victim by punching and kicking his face, head and body, prosecutors showed at trial.

The defendants were arrested at the scene after a passerby called 911.   All three defendants had tattoos known to reflect an affiliation with white supremacist groups.

A federal jury convicted Charles Cannon, Michael McLaughlin, and Brian Kerstetter of a federal hate crime charge related to a racially motivated assault of a 29-year-old African-American victim. They handed down the verdict in April of 2012.

Kerstetter was later sentenced to 77 months in prison. Cannon was sentenced to 37 months in prison. McLaughlin was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

The hate crime act adds to the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

"I believe it is a great tool that the federal government has to fight against race, sexual orientation or any other prejudices that someone may have," community activist Quanell X told Local 2 Thursday.

Barrett is expected to appear in federal court Friday for a hearing to find out if he will stay in jail until his trial. 

Click here to read the redacted criminal complaint.

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