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Deep Ellum's suspect attorney says case isn't a hate crime

Austin Shuffield's attorney, Scott Palmer, said the case has been overblown by civil rights Attorney, Lee Merritt.

DALLAS — For the first time, the public is hearing Austin Shuffield’s side of the story through his attorney.

The suspect in the Deep Ellum attack hired attorney Scott Palmer to represent him.

Friday morning, Palmer went to court to sign a document to set a date for his client’s initial appearance and addressed the media.

“Once everyone understands the circumstances that led up to this, and her actions and the threats she made, everyone will understand that this thing has been way overblown,” Palmer said.

There was public outcry after video surfaced of Shuffield, a white male, punching L’Daijohnique Lee, a black female. It happened in a Deep Ellum parking lot in March.

Initially, Dallas police charged Shuffield with only a misdemeanor assault, public intoxication, unlawfully carrying a weapon and interference with a 911 call. That sparked protests demanding DPD upgrade the charge to an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon since Shuffield pulled out a gun.

The victim hired civil rights attorney Lee Merritt to represent her. 

Once he was hired, he said he got a statement from her that said Shuffield shouted racial slurs at the time. Dallas police didn't have that in any report, and in an interview with WFAA, the victim never mentioned the slurs.

Dallas police also didn't charge Shuffield with a hate crime.

“It’s really doing a disservice to legitimate hate crimes," Palmer said. "This is not a hate crime, and there are legitimate hate crimes that need to be prosecuted as such. But, this situation is of people of two of different colors and has nothing to do with animosity towards one or the other."

The victim said Shuffield knocked the phone out of her hand when she attempted to call 911 for help. Shuffield’s attorney said she was calling friends and threatening to have them come and shoot Shuffield. 

“We have evidence that corroborates that she did indeed call her friends," he said. "We aren’t going to say who or who they are, but she knows who they are.”

Merritt fired back in a statement.

“The most frustrating part about representing victims of racial violence is the hyper villainization of black victims," he said. "Scott Palmer’s, Shuffield’s attorney, wild accusations are just another example of that pattern.”

“Ms. Lee told me about the racial slurs in response to a specific inquiry," he said. "She did not realize there was legal significance in the use of racial language during the attack.”

Dallas police also filed charges against Lee after she admitted she broke out windows and damaged Shuffield’s truck after the assault.   

Police said she caused more than $3,000 in damage. District Attorney John Creuzot declined to take the case and dropped the charge.

A Dallas grand jury will hear Shuffield’s case and determine if he will be indicted on the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which is a felony.