College fight linked to racial comments

Trial opens for student at McDaniel charged in late-night brawl

March 24, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A verbal exchange full of racially charged language was the precipitating factor in a brawl at McDaniel College last fall that left one student with serious injuries and another facing assault charges, a Carroll County prosecutor said yesterday.

"This is somewhat of a nasty case," said David P. Daggett, deputy state's attorney for Carroll County, during his opening statements in Circuit Court. Daggett said that what began as a outing to a Baltimore nightclub on a chartered bus turned ugly on the ride home, resulting in an on-campus brawl instigated by the defendant.

Nicholaos G. Alevrogiannis, 23, of Westminster, a fifth-year student and a former standout football player at McDaniel, faces two counts of second-degree assault in a trial that began yesterday before Judge Michael M. Galloway. Charges of racial or religious harassment against Alevrogiannis were dropped last week.

He was arrested by Westminster police after a confrontation Nov. 6 that escalated into a fistfight that left a McDaniel student, Stuart V. Johnson Jr., 19, with a broken finger and a wound to his jaw and neck that required 40 stitches, according to court documents. Another student, Daniel Silva, also was involved in the scuffle. Silva, 20, and Johnson are sophomores at the school; both are African-American. Alevrogiannis is white.

Defense attorney J. Barry Hughes framed the event as unfortunate, but "consensual combat" between his client, Johnson and Silva. Hughes said that Silva and Johnson directed profane remarks at Alevrogiannis on the bus, and that his client reacted to a statement that he felt insulted his Greek heritage.

Hughes said that when the students returned to campus, Alevrogiannis and the two sophomores attacked each other, but that no crime was committed because it was a mutual fight.

Daggett asked jurors to look at the size of the individuals involved - he said that Alevrogiannis weighs about 290 pounds, while Johnson weighs about 140 pounds and Silva 180 pounds.

In court yesterday, Johnson told the eight men and four women on the jury that the problems began before the bus left the club's parking lot. Johnson said that Alevrogiannis made derogatory comments to women on the bus.

"I told the defendant to respect the ladies on the bus," Johnson testified. In response, he said, Alevrogiannis made racial remarks, some with violent overtones.

Johnson testified that as the bus approached the Westminster campus, Alevrogiannis told him "he was going to kill us when we got back to school. He said he was going to hang us. ..."

Galloway issued a written memorandum yesterday, restricting testimony to statements of a threatening or violent nature. The judge prohibited testimony about racist comments alleged to have been made by the defendant.

Witnesses - including Johnson and Silva and one other McDaniel College student who was on the bus that night - testified yesterday that Alevrogiannis told them to "bite the curb," an apparent reference to a scene in the movie American History X, in which a white supremacist forces a black man to lie in the street and open his mouth on a concrete curb before bringing down his foot on the back of the man's head.

Other witnesses told the court that they heard Alevrogiannis use racial epithets and make threats of violence against Johnson and Silva.

Although the exchange was heated and profane, Johnson said he made no move toward Alevrogiannis.

Jurors were shown enlarged photographs of Johnson after the incident. Johnson testified that he broke his right index finger, had three fractured teeth, needed 40 stitches on the left side of his face and injured his left leg.

Silva testified that he acted in self-defense once the fight erupted. He said that Alevrogiannis came running after him and Johnson as they walked from the bus to their dormitory. Silva said he tried pushing Alevrogiannis away, even as his former teammate punched him in the abdomen. Silva was a defensive back on the football team during Alevrogiannis' final season.

Before court adjourned for the day, defense attorney Hughes presented a witness who refuted Johnson and Silva's account.

Joe Rydzewski, 26, a senior and former military policeman, said he heard racial and ethnic slurs being used by Alevrogiannis and Silva, but no other violent comments. Rydzewski, who also was a member of the football team, said he took Silva aside to calm him down.

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