Two men were arraigned Monday on assault charges stemming from a fight outside a political event at the Somerville Theatre where US Representative Ayanna Pressley was headlining along with the contingent of liberal Democratic women lawmakers known as the Squad.
Pressley’s Republican challenger, Donnie Palmer,, who was protesting the event on Saturday, was one of two victims, according to court records. The other was fellow protester Shawn Nelson.
The brawl, which was video recorded, left Nelson with injuries that required hospitalization but were not life threatening, according to police reports.
Everyone involved claimed self defense, according to police reports.
The circumstances of the incident remain unclear. But Jim Lyons, the head of the state GOP, highlighted the violent melee in a campaign press release, calling it an emblem of liberal politics run amok.
“What if I told you a violent gang of ‘squad’ sympathizers beat up a conservative gay Black man outside an event featuring not just U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, but her whole contingent?” Lyons wrote in the press release.
The event included US representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who along with Pressley are known as the Squad, as well as Cori Bush of Missouri. Pressley’s campaign said in a brief statement Sunday that the fight did not involve them.
Somerville police reports released after Monday’s arraignment showed no ties between the men who were arrested — Foster Starkes, 36, of Cambridge, and Andwain Coleman Jr., 29, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, — and Pressley or the event at the Somerville Theater.
According to the police reports, the fight started around 4:20 p.m. Saturday in Seven Hills Park and ended on Dover Street.
A man identified as Nelson told officers he’d been in Davis Square protesting the Squad event when he had an argument with an unknown woman, “with whom he has had prior altercations,” according to the reports. Four men who claimed to be the woman’s relatives later approached him. An argument escalated into a physical confrontation.
“Then, the four men assaulted him, knocking him to the ground, kicking him, punching him, and hitting him with a flag pole that belongs to a witness,” the report said. “I observed Mr. Nelson to have multiple cuts and abrasions on his face and extremities.”
Nelson also showed the officer a video clip of the melee taken by someone who appears to know him.
Coleman told police he and Starkes were leaving Mike’s Restaurant in Davis Square when the group in front of the Somerville Theater started to yell at them and hurl racial slurs.
“Both parties stated that Mr. Nelson and his group of protesters shouted racial slurs at them and attacked them,” the report said, adding that the officer “did not observe Mr. Coleman or Mr. Starks to have apparent injuries.”
Starkes and Coleman each pleaded not guilty in Somerville District Court to a single count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
Judge Sarah Joss released the men on their own recognizance and set their next court hearings for Nov. 1.
Lawyer Brian J. Donegan was appointed to represent Starkes and stood in to represent Coleman at his arraignment. Donegan told the judge that “proof of a dangerous weapon is completely lacking” in the police report. Donegan declined to comment outside of court, as did Starkes and Coleman.
🇺🇸🇺🇸— Donnie Palmer 4 Congress (@Donnieplmr) September 24, 2022
SHAWN NELSON a conservative gay black man was savagely beaten up today in Somerville These thugs are supporters of Wu and PRESSLEY He was protesting the murder of the 18 year old who was killed for supporting Trump, when this happened Democrats are the Domestic terrorists! pic.twitter.com/woaRUijRs8
Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed.