Zachary Tennen at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing - Photo from Detroit Free Press
EAST LANSING, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) - Police say charges are expected against an 18-year-old Farmington Hills teen who is accused of hitting an Michigan State University student at an off-campus party over the weekend.
But East Lansing Police Captain Jeff Murphy said today that while witnesses saw 19-year-old victim Zachary Tennen of Franklin get punched and pull a piece of metal from his mouth afterward, no witnesses have confirmed any evidence of stapling or a hate crime.
"I don't think this victim is lying or anything like that," Murphy said today, adding that investigators located two guests of the Spartan Avenue party that saw "a one-punch assault" of Tennen at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday. "It's just some difference of what these people saw. They've got front-row seats to this whole thing. And he got assaulted and it never should have happened and it was a serious assault. But the big thing is people started putting out it was a hate crime, and nothing's showing us it was a part of it."
Zachary Tennen and his family said party guests watched as two men with shaved heads assaulted the journalism sophomore after asking him if he was Jewish. The family alleges the men raised their arms in a Nazi salute, said "Heil Hitler," then stapled Zachary Tennen's gums behind his bottom front teeth.
About 40 people were at the gathering, but most were in the backyard when the assault took place in the driveway out front, Murphy said. Murphy said no one stepped in as Tennen was punched. But the witnesses said they never saw a salute or heard references to Hitler or Tennen's religion before he was hit. They also told police that they helped Tennen up, put frozen vegetables on his jaw after the attack, then walked him down the street and flagged down a cab that took him to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Murphy said.
"That's the other person we'd really like to talk to is the cab driver, and we haven't been able to locate him," Murphy said. "He'd be a great witness for us, too."
Witnesses said they saw Tennen pull a piece of metal from his mouth, but they didn't know what it was or how it got there.
"He said something to the effect that he'd been stapled, but there's nobody that saw anything like that," Murphy said. "And the witnesses that watched the assault happen didn't see a stapler and indicated to us there was no way the suspect could have done anything with a stapler because it was one punch to the face and the suspect left the area. We haven't determined how he got that piece of metal in his mouth. But it was not put there by the suspect."
Investigators from the East Lansing Police Department located the suspect through a friend of a friend. The suspect said he went to East Lansing to attend Welcome Week open house parties, and he did not know the people hosting the gathering.
"He was cooperative and he knows how serious it is, obviously," Murphy said, declining to identify the teen until he is charged. "I can't really get into what his story was. He was surprised we had located him."
Zachary Tennen's father, Bruce Tennen, on Tuesday called police statements that the attack wasn't a hate crime "absurd," adding that his son was upset about investigators debating the claim. He said he would support Anti-Defamation League follow-up with the FBI. Zachary Tennen is the grandson of longtime Michigan 3rd District Judge Harvey F. Tennen.
Murphy said the suspect could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines if found guilty of aggravated assault, a minor misdemeanor that specifies the victim was seriously injured in an attack. He said the suspect will remain free as local prosecutors review the case later this week to determine specifically what charges to file.
Anyone who saw the attack or knows the identity of the cab driver is asked to call the East Lansing Police Department at 1-877-ELPD-TIP (1-877-357-3847).