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Athletes charged in attack, ethnic slurs

Three football players are accused of beating Palestinian students outside a dorm at their small Quaker college.

January 24, 2007|David Zucchino | Times Staff Writer

Durham, N.C. — Three football players at Guilford College, a small Quaker school with a legacy of nonviolence and religious tolerance, have been charged with assaulting three Palestinian students who said they also were subjected to ethnic slurs.

Police in Greensboro said the students told them a group of men outside a Guilford dormitory beat them with feet, fists and brass knuckles. The Palestinians declined medical treatment immediately after the incident early Saturday morning but sought treatment Sunday, when they contacted police.

The three players, alleged to be in the group, were charged Monday with assault and battery and ethnic intimidation. Each was released on $2,000 bond.

In a statement, the university called the alleged attack "an unnecessary and unfortunate incident." The statement said the altercation lasted about five minutes and involved about a dozen students, some of whom tried to break it up.

Some of the students at the scene had been drinking alcohol, the statement said.

Police identified the Palestinians as Faris Khadar and Osama Sabbah, both Guilford students, and Omar Awartani, a North Carolina State University student who was visiting friends. Police did not disclose the extent of their injuries. School officials said they had urged the three to seek treatment.

Charged were Michael Bates, 20, of Reidsville, N.C.; Christopher Barnette, 19, of Semora, N.C.; and Michael Robert Six, 20, of Clemmons, N.C.

Barnette, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior wide receiver, is one of two NCAA Division III All-Americans in school history and is considered an NFL prospect. Six is a 6-foot-3-inch, 270-pound lineman; Bates is a 6-foot-2-inch, 265-pound defensive end.

Aaron Fetrow, dean of campus life, told reporters that the incident was "an unfortunate conflict between students who knew each other and had interacted prior to this altercation." As Fetrow spoke, students held up signs they had scribbled on notebook paper: "Hate Crime" and "Cover Up."

Awartani told the Greensboro News-Record on Tuesday that he had been diagnosed with a concussion. He said the attackers called him and the other Palestinian students "dirty" and "terrorists"; he described the incident as a "horrible, unprovoked hate crime."

He added: "We were beaten because of who we were, because of what they thought about us." Awartani said the three had previously attended a Quaker school in Ramallah, in the West Bank.

Guilford President Kent Chabotar said he had increased security on the tree-lined campus as a precaution. He emphasized that the football players, who remain enrolled pending a school investigation, deserve a presumption of innocence.

"There are too many examples of colleges and universities jumping to conclusions with dire consequences for the institution, students and the community," Chabotar said. Last spring, in nearby Durham, three lacrosse players at Duke University were accused of raping a woman at an off-campus party. Those charges have since been reduced and the prosecutor in the case charged with making prejudicial public comments.

At Guilford, officials plan a community forum today to discuss the weekend incident. "Attempts will be made to determine underlying reasons for what happened and prevent it from happening again," the school statement said.

Guilford, with about 1,300 undergraduates, was founded by Quakers in 1837. The campus was a station on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves and was a center of resistance to Confederate conscription and war requisitions.


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