Faced with the prospect of criminal charges against them, two central figures in a brawl that left a high school cheerleader with a slashed face insisted Wednesday that the confrontation was not over race but boyfriends.
“Everyone’s saying this was a racial crime, and it wasn’t,” asserted Colleen Gallagher, 19, of Stanton, who said tensions between her and another girl over a boyfriend triggered the Aug. 6 incident. “I didn’t even know that Amber was black.”
Amber Jefferson, 15, who by all accounts was not centrally involved in the fight that erupted that night, suffered a broken jaw and a badly cut face. It could be years before she regains control over the muscles on the side of her face, her doctors have said.
Some friends with her at the time said that her injuries came at the hands of white men wielding bats and shattered glass and shouting racial epithets. The Sheriff’s Department has recommended to the district attorney’s office that a broad range of criminal charges be filed against up to a dozen people on both sides of the brawl.
The charges sought by sheriff’s officials are for violations of a recent state law that subjects perpetrators of “hate crimes"--fueled by racial or other prejudice--to up to three years in prison. The Sheriff’s Department did not specify who might be charged under this statute.
Gallagher, who is white, acknowledged in an interview Wednesday that she used the word “nigger” during the altercation. But she said this was directed not at Amber, but at a white 16-year-old girl, and that no one else involved in the confrontation used any racial epithets.
“I said you’d better get your nigger buddy back in the car,” Gallagher recalled. “But that was (meant) for (the other girl) because she is. Everyone knows ‘nigger’ doesn’t mean a colored person. You can look in the dictionary--it’s an ignorant, uneducated person who lives in a pigsty. That’s what it means.
“I’m not a racist person,” said Gallagher, who added that she is studying English literature and political science at Cypress College. “I’ve gone out with black men.”
While Gallagher and her supporters expressed outrage at the Sheriff’s Department’s recommendations, Amber’s friends also were shocked to find out that they, too, could face prosecution for their role in the fight.
“What are they charging us for? We’re the ones that got hit with the bats,” said a 17-year-old Anaheim youth. “We know what happened, and they’re not going to get away with this.”
Gallagher maintained that the girl she was fighting with was angry about the girl’s breakup with her boyfriend and was looking for a fight just after midnight Aug. 6. Gallagher said that the other girl, along with Amber, two black male teen-agers and a Latino male teen-ager, stopped their car in front of her apartment and confronted her about her relationship with the other girl’s ex-boyfriend. The fighting broke out when one of Gallagher’s friends arrived with a bat and was then knocked down by one of the boys from the car, Gallagher said.
She and Earl Wimberly, a 42-year-old construction worker whom Amber has accused as being one of her assailants, insisted that they did not see anyone strike Jefferson, although they said they later saw her with a towel wrapped around her head, which was bleeding.
Gallagher and Wimberly, both among those against whom charges are being considered, live next door to one another at the Stanton apartment complex where the fight took place.
Wimberly said two of the boys who were with Jefferson smashed his apartment windows while his youngest son slept underneath them. And he maintained that he entered the fray only to protect his teen-age son, Kurt, who is now dating Gallagher after breaking up with the 16-year-old.
“These guys were right outside beating the crap out of my son with a bat, so I came out with a bat--equalize things a little bit,” Wimberly said. “But I never hit Amber.”