What started off as a fashion photo shoot for a clothing start up ended with allegations of a racially charged assault in Lexington Saturday night.
Three black Henry Clay High School students claim that a white manager from Portofino accused them of stealing before chasing them on foot through downtown Lexington. The resulting discussion on social media — one video showing one of the girls in a hospital bed had thousands of views — and questions from the media prompted police to issue a public statement Monday.
No one has been charged, but police are contacting independent witnesses and “gathering as much information as possible about the facts of the case,” the statement said. “Police take this allegation very seriously and are actively investigating. Officers have spoken with all parties involved.”
Portofino owner Wayne Masterman responded to the allegations late Monday.
"For 25 years, our restaurants have been supporters of diversity and tolerance,” Masterman said. “If there is a problem, we'll find it and fix it."
Queen Gates, 17, Crystal Flowers, 16, and Trinity Gates, 16, and two others had just wrapped up the shoot for Junior Clothing around 7 p.m. near Portofino restaurant, they said. One of the girls needed to charge her cell phone and two others asked to use the bathroom across the hall from the restaurant to change out of the clothes they were modeling. The Portofino manager, who had provided the group his business card, obliged, Queen said.
The girls had never been in the restaurant.
After the girls finished changing and were about to leave, the manager told the girls that a jacket was missing and he needed to look in their bags, Queen said. That’s when Queen said she heard a Portofino waitress say, “They’re the only black people in here, they had to take it.”
As the girls left the restaurant walking toward Esplanade Street, the manager yelled “Stop, stop,” Queen said. After he caught up to them, the girls stopped, opened the bag and started removing shoes from it, Queen said. The girls said they did not have the jacket.
Over the course of the next 15 minutes, the girls were chased repeatedly through the streets and struck by the manager who continued to insist they had the jacket, Queen said. The manager also pulled Queen’s hair. Crystal said the manager struck her face, knocking her to the ground.
Police said they have conflicting information about how the injury occurred.
The pursuit stopped when one Lexington police officer pulled up to the girls. The girls implored the officer to talk to the Portofino manager who was still in earshot, Queen said.
“Look at her face, he did that to her face,” Queen said she told the officer, adding that she pointed at the manager in the distance.
The officer told the girls that he could not apprehend the manager at that time because he did not know what had happened. The officer’s decision was further explained by public information officer Brenna Angel Monday afternoon.
“Each case we investigate involves an examination of all the circumstances and evidence available to police at the time,” Angel said. “Under state law, police cannot arrest someone for a misdemeanor assault that an officer did not witness.”
The mothers of Queen and Crystal ended up taking the girls to St. Joseph Hospital and Baptist Health respectively after police finished questioning them.
Queen’s mother filed a report with police that names Michael B. Robinson as the suspect. The report also lists the offense as a fourth-degree assault minor injury, a misdemeanor.
Angel said that investigators spoke with Robinson Monday.