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JUSTICE?

Man Released From Jail Without Hate Crime Charges After Shocking Attack on Black Woman

Austin Shuffield allegedly knocked out L’Daijohnique Lee and called her a ‘stupid [n-word].’ She and protesters want him back behind bars.

Pilar Melendez3.25.19 7:10 PM ET

A black Dallas woman is calling for felony hate crime charges to be filed against the white bartender who allegedly knocked her unconscious after calling her a “stupid [n-word],” her attorney told The Daily Beast on Monday.  

Police say L’Daijohnique Lee was beat up last Thursday by Austin Shuffield, an incident that has captured local and national attention. Video shows Shuffield savagely punching Lee at least five times. Shuffield was arrested minutes later and was released on bail the next day. Protesters have taken to the streets in recent days, calling out law enforcement for releasing Shuffield and for not charging him with felonies.  

“I haven't been able to eat, haven't been able to sleep. It's always on my mind. I'm scared. I don't know who is following me. Who is behind me. Who is watching me,” Lee, 24, said on Monday during a press conference with her attorney, civil rights activist Lee Merritt.

Lee said she didn’t reveal her identity sooner out of fear of retribution. “He's been out since it happened. I'm just scared,” she said.

At about 4 a.m. on March 21, Lee said she drove the wrong way down a street in the city’s Deep Ellum neighborhood to drop off her friend. Shuffield got out of his truck to tell Lee she was blocking a parking lot exit, police said. When Lee moved her car into a parking space, Shuffield came up to her and started to “take pictures of the license plates,” according to his arrest warrant. That’s when Lee claims he accosted her with racial slurs, according to her attorney.

“Austin then said ‘cokehead’ and that she was a ‘stupid n---er,’” Merritt told The Daily Beast. “To get away from him, she jumped on the curb to go toward the parking lot and he followed her to where she parked her car, continuing to harass her.”

At this point a man started filming the encounter. In the video, Lee is seen backing away from Shuffield, holding her cellphone in what Merritt says was an attempt to call the police. Shuffield is then seen slapping the phone out of her hand before lunging toward Lee, punching her at least five times with a closed first. Lee’s body doubled over after the first punch.   

"My body still hurts. Everything still hurts," Lee said Monday.

At one point in the video, Shuffield also appears to be holding a gun. (Officers recovered a .45-caliber handgun and knife from Shuffield’s truck, according to the arrest warrant.)

Shuffield did not respond to requests for comment, but police said he told an officer at the scene that he was acting in self-defense after Lee “started hitting him” and threatened to pepper-spray him.

“Of course she threatened him with mace,” Merritt said. “Austin was hurling racial slurs at her and threatening violence when she did nothing wrong. She was just trying to protect herself.”

The man who recorded the video called police and officers arrested Shuffield for assault with bodily injury, interfering with an emergency call, and public intoxication.

Lee was immediately transported to the hospital, where she was treated for a concussion, cranial swelling, swelling in her jaw and a black eye, according to Merritt, who said she may have sustained permanent damage to her right ear.

“She is still recovering and has been to the ER at least three times since the incident,” Merritt said Monday. “Last night, she had increased pressure in her head, consistent nausea and a really bad headache from the attack.”

After spending Thursday in jail, Shuffield was released after posting $2,000 in bond.

“We are seeking federal hate crime and aggravated assault charges against Shuffield,” Merritt said. “Until he is rearrested, Ms. Lee is not safe. While we appreciate that it’s a process we want to see new charges moved forward and that steps are being taken to ensure [Shuffield] is not a danger to her or other members of his community.”

A spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney's office said on Monday the “investigation is ongoing” and prosecutors have requested additional information from police regarding the possibility of additional charges.

Merrit and Lee said they also plan to file a civil rights lawsuit against Shuffield and his former employer, High and Tight Barbershop and Speakeasy, who had a “responsibility to protect the public.” The bar said it does not condone what Shuffield allegedly did, but declined to comment on the possible lawsuit.

Meanwhile, protests have hit the streets demanding justice for Lee. On Saturday, 70 people marched on Deep Ellum to protest the now viral assault that has been shared social media by celebrities like Chelsea Handler and activist Shaun King.

The Deep Ellum protest was organized by Dominique Alexander, founder of the civil rights group Next Generation Action Network. Alexander said the demonstrations will continue if authorities don’t charge Shuffield with a hate crime and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

“Those are both felonies. Those charges are adequate with what we saw,” she said.

Merritt said the assault against Lee is also an attack on the black community.

“Here in Dallas, we are tired of seeing this kind of attack against black woman specifically,” Merritt said. “Racial violence is on the rise in the U.S. and this latest incident is just a reflection of a larger problem that needs to be addressed.”

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