Attorney for the white man who was filmed punching an 11-year-old black girl mentions PTSD and says the man felt threatened by the 'pack of youths'

Asheville Police Department/WGHPDavid Steven Bell, 51, was arrested on a charge of assaulting a child under the age of 12.
  • David Steven Bell, 51, was arrested over the weekend on assault charges after video surfaced showing him punching an 11-year-old black girl in the face outside the Asheville Mall in North Carolina.
  • Video of the episode quickly went viral online, sparking widespread outrage.
  • On Monday, Bell’s attorney spoke with the Asheville Citizen Times and said his client had PTSD and felt threatened by what the attorney called a “pack of youths” who surrounded Bell.

The attorney for a white man who was filmed punching a black girl in the face last weekend is speaking out to defend his client’s actions.

David Steven Bell, 51, was arrested on assault charges Saturday after video showed him punching an unidentified 11-year-old girl outside the Asheville Mall in North Carolina.

Video of the assault quickly went viral and has been viewed millions of times online. Some have called the incident racist.

On Monday, Bell’s attorney, Andy Banzhoff, spoke out for the first time about the incident that got his client arrested and charged with assaulting a child under the age of 12.

In a statement to the Citizen Times, Banzhoff said Bell was undergoing long-term treatment for a traumatic brain injury, had post-traumatic stress disorder, and felt threatened by “a large pack of youths.”

“His actions were not motivated by any animus towards the persons in that group,” the statement said. “Mr. Bell’s belief is that all persons are created equal and that we are all children of God.”

While Banzhoff did not directly blame post-tramautic stress disorder for Bell’s actions, his mentioning it in relation to the case could invoke myths surrounding PTSD and violence. Studies have shown people with PTSD are not more likely to commit violence. The US Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 8 million American adults have PTSD in a given year and that as many as 8% of Americans will have it at some point in their lives.

Banzhoff said Bell was at the mall with his family on Saturday when he saw a group of kids “harassing a woman” inside a Barnes & Noble.

Banzhoff said Bell responded by telling store employees to call security and then escorting the woman outside the store personally.

The group of kids followed, encircling Bell and making it impossible for him to leave, according to his attorney. Banzhoff said some of the kids started taunting Bell and yelling threatening remarks at him. He claims that one girl pushed Bell in the back and another approached him “in an aggressive manner.”

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It was at this point that Bell shoved the girl in front of him, causing her to lose her balance and take several steps backward, Banzhoff said.

“She then got to her feet and aggressively charged in the direction of Mr. Bell. As she entered Mr. Bell’s personal face, he struck her with a closed fist,” Banzhoff told the Citizen Times.

Banzhoff said that the group dispersed after that and that Bell soon flagged down an Asheville police officer. Bell was arrested at the scene.

He was initially charged with assaulting a child under the age of 12. After the incident, two 13-year-old girls told authorities that Bell shoved them as well, and he received two additional charges of assault on a female.

All three charges are misdemeanours. He is due in court to face the charges on February 5.

Banzhoff said his client regretted using physical force and that he and his family were praying for healing for “those impacted by this unfortunate incident.”

The video quickly went viral online, where some accused the man featured of racism. It was shared by the journalist Shaun King and the comedian D.L. Hughley. Many said the man, since identified as Bell, could have easily walked away from the girl, who did not appear to be a physical threat to him.

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