The attorney for a man charged with assaulting three girls outside an Asheville, N.C.-mall last week says his client was only defending himself and trying to help a woman who was being harassed by “a large pack of youths” on Saturday.
Attorney Andy Banzhoff also said his client, 51-year-old David Steven Bell, is undergoing treatment for a traumatic brain injury, as well as post traumatic stress disorder, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times. He said Bell regrets using physical force.
Bell, who stands 6 feet 5 and weighs 250 pounds, according to police records, is charged with assaulting a female under the age of 12 after punching a young girl in the face on Jan. 12, sending her tumbling to the ground. The shocking incident was captured on video and posted on social media, where it was widely circulated.
Police said the attack unfolded during a fight involving several youths outside the mall that evening.
“His actions were not motivated by any animus towards the persons in the group,” Banzhoff said in a statement. “Mr. Bell’s belief is that all persons are created equal and that we are all children of God.”
Footage of the incident sparked a flood of angry reactions on social media from people who chastised Bell not showing restraint and putting his hand on a child. Still, there were those who came to Bell’s defense, saying the mostly Black teens weren’t totally innocent either.
“So we give an age limit to someone being allowed to touch someone?” one Twitter user argued. “I’m NOT condoning any of their behavior but teach your kids not to touch anybody should be the lesson not an age limit to touch someone.”
According to Banzhoff, Bell was leaving a bookstore with his family when he spotted a “large group of youths harassing a woman.” Bell reportedly asked staffers at the bookstore to call security and ordered the teens to “break it up” as he tried escorting the woman outside.
The youths followed and blocked him from leaving, Bell said, while some hurled threatening remarks at him. That’s when one of the girls shoved Bell in the back and another “stepped towards Bell in an aggressive manner.”
Bell shoved the girl back, causing her to briefly lose her balance and fall, according to the lawyer.
“She then got to her feet and aggressively charged in the direction of Mr. Bell,” Banzhoff added. “As she entered Mr. Bell’s personal space, he struck her with his closed fist.”
The condition of the 11-year-old, who hasn’t been named, is unknown. A spokeswoman for the Asheville Police Department noted that all victims at the time of the incident refused transport to the hospital for treatment.
Banzhoff insisted his client’s actions were “an effort to defend himself against the perceived threat from a large pack of youth who had trapped and surrounded him.” He added that Bell and his family have been praying for those impacted by his behavior.
As reported by the Citizen-Times, two 13-year-old girls later told the Buncombe County Magistrate’s Office that Bell also pushed them during the incident. That claim led to Bell being charged with one count of assault on a female.
The Black Mountain, N.C., man is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 5.