An Oregon food truck owner severely beaten in a random attack that’s being prosecuted as a hate crime is questioning how police initially handled his case and crediting the power of social media for helping make an arrest.
Darell Preston of Portland was on the phone with his wife when he was attacked in broad daylight outside his business, LoRell’s Chicken Shack, on June 15. Video posted to social media shows a man brutally beating Preston as passing cars honk and people shout. The man then calmly walks away.
As the man stomped Preston’s head, he repeatedly shouted a racial slur at him, said civil rights attorney Alicia LeDuc Montgomery, who is representing Preston.
“I hit you, (racial slur), stay on the ground!” the man shouted at Preston, he told Montgomery.
Photos taken of Preston after the attack show his face covered in blood, one eye swollen completely shut and the other barely open. He suffered numerous fractures, a broken nose and multiple cuts.
The man arrested in the beating, 40-year-old Daniel Thomas Warren, was charged Tuesday with a hate crime and assault in Multnomah County court. He has pleaded not guilty.
Although the arrest was made and the prosecution is moving forward, Preston’s attorney said the police department can do better responding to such crimes, which have been increasing in Portland and nationwide.
Portland police said the call about Preston’s beating came in as a report of a car hitting a pedestrian. When they arrived, they learned it had been an assault and that Preston was inside his food truck.
“It took officers several minutes to convince the victim to come out of the food cart to talk with them,” police said in a news release on June 29, two weeks after the attack. “Once outside, the officers could see that he was injured. They immediately offered to summon EMS, but he declined. The victim told officers he was delivering food and was attacked. When the officer asked for more detail on what happened, the victim declined to say more and locked himself in the cart.”
Police said officers continued to collect evidence, look for witnesses and search the area for the attacker. One witness gave them video of the attack.
“Multiple attempts were made to connect with the victim and obtain a more detailed statement,” police said, adding that they didn’t get to interview Preston or his family until June 18, three days after the attack.
In a news release, which came two weeks after the attack, police shared photos of the suspect and asked for the public’s help to find him.
Video of the attack began to go viral a week after it happened and made its way to a popular TikToker named Michael McWhorter, who uses his account to identify wrong-doers and track them down.
McWhorter, whose username is @tizzyent, posted blurred video of the assault on June 28 and called on his nearly 6 million followers to help identify the suspect. The video racked up more than a million views.
Within hours, McWhorter got several tips identifying the attacker as Warren. He posted another video with Warren’s name and photos, along with another call on his followers to help find him.
Three days later, police made the arrest.
‘Room for improvement’
When it comes to the police response, Montgomery said there is “room for improvement,” and that it was no wonder Preston was unable to speak to police following a traumatizing attack.
“He was clearly shook up, and then there wasn’t follow-up for many days, and it sounds like the investigation wasn’t really active for several days after the incident,” she said. “So the concern was, what is going on? Is an investigation even taking place? Why isn’t the family being contacted and followed up with?”
Although the department got more engaged later and made an arrest, “we would have liked to have seen all that happen much more quickly.”
Portland police Sgt. Kevin Allen said in a statement that “we fully respect the victim and the victim’s family as they’ve been through a terrible ordeal.”
“We respect their right to discuss any concerns they have, and we humbly consider those concerns as we are constantly seeking to improve our service to the community,” he continued. “That said, I can verify the officer made significant effort to investigate this case from the initial call despite several challenges.”
Police arrested Warren on July 2 after officers spotted him walking by while they were working another call. The Multnomah County officially charged the case as a hate crime on Tuesday.
Warren’s court-appointed attorney, Alexis Andersen, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Court records show that Warren has numerous prior convictions, including assault in 2022, criminal trespassing in 2016, strangulation, assault, coercion, and resisting arrest in 2006, and burglary in 2003, among others. His next court date stemming from Preston’s beating is set for Aug. 23.
Montgomery said she believes social media and the public’s involvement played a significant role in the arrest.
“The public’s engagement on this issue is a clear message that this is a matter of significant public interest,” she said.
People from around the globe contributed to a GoFundMe started by Preston’s brother-in-law. The original fundraising goal was $10,000 but it had reached more than $86,000 in donations by Friday evening.
“Sending much love from London,” one contributor wrote. Another wrote that he had heard Preston’s story “from all the way across the country.”
“One day I’ll make my way to your part of the world and look forward to buying some of the food you share with others,” they wrote.
Within two weeks of his beating, despite advice from friends and family to take it easy, Preston was back at his food truck, slinging the Chicago-style fried chicken that’s made him locally famous.
“What happened to me, I wouldn’t have dreamed of in my darkest nightmares,’ Preston posted on Facebook on Thursday. “But what I’ve come to realize and truly believe is that what doesn’t kill you, truly makes you stronger; if not stronger, well at least more determined. Because of this, I am more determined to succeed than I have ever been before.”
Preston also thanked McWhorter for posting video of the attack, which he credited for the arrest.
McWhorter said he was happy the video helped bring more attention to the case and spread the word about the fundraiser.
“That GoFundMe and that kind of swelling of support is the thing that hopefully everyone can kind of focus on in the sense of yes, there are terrible people in the world who do terrible things,” he said. “And as disheartening as that is, there are so many more good people.”