MIDDLEBURG, Fla. — A man physically attacked for holding a sign that said "Death to America" in Clay County tells Action News Jax he will be back out at the same corner holding his sign very soon.
The man was holding the sign at the corner of County Road 220 and Plantation Drive in Middleburg when he was attacked by a man and woman on Tuesday afternoon.
According to a Clay County Sheriff's Office report, the other side of the Charles Brownett's sign said, "Because of Obama's policies." A female passenger in a passing gray Nissan Titan yelled to the man, "Why don't you leave America?"
Brownett yelled back, "Give me some money," the report detailed.
A man wearing an orange shirt was driving the Nissan Titan, which pulled into the parking lot of McDonald's at 561 Plantation Drive. The man and the woman went inside McDonald's, then walked back out to the truck.
The man wearing the orange shirt shouted to Brownett, "Actually, I like that sign, give it to me," witnesses told deputies.
The two struggled over the sign and the man wearing the orange shirt tackled the victim. An unknown citizen tried to break up the altercation when the female passenger from the Nissan Titan came over and kicked the victim several times, the report detailed.
The man wearing the orange shirt used the "break in the conflict" to punch Brownett in the face several times with a closed fist.
The victim had bruises on his face and had scrapes to his knees from the attack.
Several witnesses recorded the entire struggle on cellphone video, and one witness sent video to Action News Jax. Deputies were able to identify the man and woman in the Nissan Titan and the "case is active pending contact with the suspect," the report detailed.
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Earlier Tuesday, Brownett was found to be "exercising his right to free speech" and was not violating any laws. Deputies received several calls about Brownett holding the sign, but he was on a public sidewalk and was not blocking traffic. Deputies also told Brownett he may "have some negative reactions from passersby" and Brownett said he had a cellphone in case there was an issue.
"He is in public area, where he has a right to be. He's expressing an opinion that is his," said Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson.
Carson said what Brownett was doing is not illegal.
“If he were encouraging some sort of violence or using prohibited language like the ‘F’ word or the ‘N’ word, then that could have had other ramifications,” said Carson.
Carson said in the eyes of the law, the attackers were in the wrong, but that’s not changing many minds about how this all played out.
“He got what he deserved,” said one woman who saw Brownett on Tuesday afternoon. She said she doesn’t agree with the sign, whether it’s freedom of speech or not.
Several viewers wrote similar posts on Facebook: “Come on it’s America, you’re not going to hold a sign with all the terroristic attacks going around the world, No.”
Some people believe he has every right to stand on the corner. Carson said the attackers can face battery charges, which can lead up to a year in jail.
Action News Jax’s Larry Spruill asked Brownett about people who thought his sign was offensive.
“No, what’s offensive is President Obama signing executive orders allowing Syrian refugees who may or may not be actually Jihadi terrorists,” Brownett said.
Brownett told Action News Jax that he will continue to display his signs and said that he shouldn’t have been attacked.
“I don’t deserve to be beaten. You can scream at me and curse me out, but please don’t hit me,” Brownett said.
Action News Jax spoke by phone with alleged attacker, the man in the orange shirt who asked us not to use his name.
“This isn’t a premeditated thing. This was just, I saw something that upset me so much, I couldn’t think straight anymore,” he said.
He said he confronted Brownett first, then things got ugly.
“When I go and try to grab the sign from him, he said, ‘Hey man, that’s my sign.’ I said ‘I just like the sign,” the man said. “He snatched it back, I tried to get the sign back from him and he started swinging on me right away man.”
Brownett said he actually tried to walk away when he was attacked, leaving him with a bruised knee, arm in a sling and cuts on his face.
“He started beating me and hitting me in the head and pulling my arms back,” Brownett said. “It was just two people, a man and a girl who kicked me in the head.”
Despite the two stories on how the fight started, both men defended their actions.
“At that point, I did strike the man, but can you blame me?” the man wearing the orange shirt said.
“I’m not smart and that’s the only way I know how to express myself,” Brownett said.
The man in the orange shirt said he is not worried about possible arrests in the case.
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