COLUMBIA — Two brothers were arrested Thursday afternoon after an attack in which Columbia police say one brother, motivated by race, tried to run over three adults and four children in the Walmart parking lot at 3001 W. Broadway.
James Robert Pezold, 25, and his younger brother, Michael Garrett Pezold, 20, face a string of charges for crimes police say were committed before, during and after the incident at Walmart. Both men are from O'Fallon, but police say they were living in Paquin Tower recently.
Columbia police withheld the names of the victims at Walmart, saying only that they were black. The four children were all under age 9.
The Pezold brothers went to Walmart to steal cans of compressed air to inhale, according to a probable cause statement. In the report, police said that Michael Pezold verbally assaulted the families exiting Walmart using racial slurs before the brothers circled the parking lot in their red truck. According to police, Michael Pezold then got out of the truck and "charged" a 25-year-old man who had just exited the building, saying, "I'm gonna f------ kill you, n-----."
Meanwhile, James Pezold drove his truck onto the sidewalk outside the store toward the families, knocking down a 2-year-old, leaving the child with minor injuries and missing others "by inches," according to the statement. He later reportedly told a police officer that he "wanted to kill those people."
After Michael Pezold got back in the truck, the two drove away.
Twenty minutes later police responded to a report of a car accident in the 3900 block of Frontenac Place, where police found Michael Pezold sitting on a curb. He told an officer his brother had stolen a baseball bat out of a house's open garage to "kill two old people on Frontenac and steal their vehicle," according to the statement.
When Columbia Police Officer Dan Wright found James Pezold, the man advanced on Wright with the bat and yelled for Wright to shoot and kill him. James Pezold gave up to police when Columbia Police Officer Robert Bennett threatened to use a Taser on him, the statement said.
After both brothers' arrests, officers connected the Pezolds' truck to an incident the previous night at Waugh and Paquin streets.
In that incident — also described in a probable cause statement — the Pezold brothers fought with a black male and were circling the block in their truck trying to find the man when they accosted a woman who was driving behind them in a black Mustang. After a brief verbal exchange, James Pezold put the truck in reverse and intentionally rammed the Mustang before driving away, police said.
According to an affidavit from Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Richard Hicks, James Pezold has been charged with first-degree tampering, leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident, second-degree assault of a law enforcement officer and four counts of first-degree assault. Public Information Officer Jessie Haden said in a release that Michael Pezold was arrested on suspicion of third-degree assault.
As of Monday, neither brother had been charged with a hate crime.
Under Missouri law, hate crime charges are used to "enhance" misdemeanor charges — like harassment, property damage and third-degree assault — and make them into felony charges, Hicks said. According to him, James Pezold can't be charged with a hate crime because the charges against him are felonies already.
But Michael Pezold could still be charged with a hate crime. He was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor third-degree assault — a charge that could be eligible for hate crime "enhancement." Hicks said the prosecutor's office would make a decision on his charges within a week.
According to the latest available FBI statistics — which include felony crimes — Missouri had 82 race-related hate crimes in 2007, with three occurring in Columbia.
Haden said the small number of racially motivated crimes normally reported in Columbia makes it difficult to know whether hate crimes have increased or decreased over the past year. But in the case of the Pezold brothers, Haden said they were "clearly not hiding their racial viewpoints" from police.
"The word n----- came up so many times during (the police interview with Michael Pezold), it seemed clear that they'd been talking about it," Haden said. "They'd had those conversations in the presence of other people."