Local police have indicated that witness accounts do not corroborate allegations of a hate crime by Michigan State student Zachary Tennen, whose jaw was surgically repaired following a recent assault.
Detectives from the East Lansing Police Department who are investigating the incident, which took place at a party on Spartan Avenue around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, interviewed two witnesses, both of whom characterized the attack as a “one-punch assault” after which the assailant immediately walked away, reported the Detroit Free Press.
Tennen, 19, claimed that two suspects with shaved heads yelled “Heil Hitler” during the assault, but witnesses told police that neither these words nor any other mention of the victim’s religion were heard before the attack. Witness accounts also noted that while no one came to Tennen’s defense during the attack, some people at the party brought frozen bags of vegetables for Tennen to put on his face, contradicting initial claims by the victim that no one came to his aid.
“I don’t think this victim is lying or anything like that,” Captain Jeff Murphy told the Associated Press.
Still, the East Lansing Police Department expressed doubt that Tennen’s lower gum was stapled in the attack, despite evidence of metal found in his mouth after the assault.
“We haven’t determined how he got that piece of metal in his mouth. But it was not put there by the suspect,” Murphy told the AP.
A lone 18-year-old suspect has been arrested in the incident, but remains free as no charges have been filed yet by prosecutors. According to the Detroit Free Press, Murphy said the suspect could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines if found guilty of aggravated assault.
“The regional office is working to find out what happened,” said Todd Gutnick, director of media relations for the Anti-Defamation League. “ADL has not been able to determine conclusively whether or not it is a hate crime. We are still waiting for the facts to be borne out.”
Bruce Tennen, the victim’s father, said that police statements indicating that the attack wasn’t a hate crime were “absurd,” adding that his son was upset about investigators debating the claim.
“We are in the process of engaging a high-profile governmental attorney,” Tennen’s father said in a statement on Wednesday. “The attorney will be commenting on the investigation at the appropriate time.”
Witnesses Dispute Jewish Student's Account: Police