Was it just a group of rowdy men shooting off fireworks from their truck, or a racially motivated attack in a public housing complex?
That decision now is in the hands of the Hamilton County grand jury.
On Friday, after consulting with their attorneys, the three white men charged with civil rights intimidation waived their rights to a preliminary hearing before General Sessions Judge Clarence Shattuck.
The judge sent the case to the grand jury.
James “Danny” Smiley, 27 — a former Hamilton County Emergency Services paramedic; Colton Partin, 21; and Kyle Montgomery, 21, are accused of hurling lit fireworks and yelling racial slurs at a group of East Lake Courts residents on July 9.
Smiley resigned from his job as a paramedic after the charges were filed.
Rex Sparks, the Hamilton County assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, said he’s confident the judge would have bound over the case to the grand jury even if the three hadn’t waived the hearing.
“It would have been a slam dunk for us. We had more than enough evidence,” Sparks said. “I’m guessing waiving the case over is a strategic move for the defense.”
The three men and their attorneys declined to comment after the proceedings.
Sitting behind the three men in the courtroom were Angela Williams and two other witnesses who said they were ready to testify about the reported attack.
The three defendants are accused of driving up and down Fourth Avenue past East Lake Courts, aiming Roman candles at people sitting outside and yelling racial slurs at the group.
Chattanooga police have said they have surveillance video of the incident, given to them by the Chattanooga Housing Authority, which owns East Lake Courts.
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd has described the footage as depicting “pretty graphic and pretty violent” behavior from the men.
Smiley’s attorney Robin Flores has said in previous statements that the men were just setting off fireworks, that it was not an attack and there was no racial motivation of any kind, according to newspaper archives.
Because the civil rights intimidation charges meet the federal standard of a hate crime, the case has been referred to the FBI for review.