ST. PETERSBURG — A late-night Christian food giveaway outside City Hall ended in violence when a man attacked a group of homeless people, who then chased the man down and beat him unconscious.
The unidentified attacker, who police believe also is homeless, was hospitalized.
"Somebody knocked him out," said Charles Roach Jr., 53, who arrived after the melee to find sirens wailing. "He probably deserved at least what he got."
Police seem to agree.
"They just responded to a situation that was happening in front of their face," said police spokesman George Kajtsa. "They were defending the victims."
The man, known in homeless circles as "Free Bird," walked up to about 40 people waiting in line about 10 p.m. for Beefaroni, cake and drinks outside City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N, around 10 p.m. Tuesday, witnesses said.
The man punched 24-year-old Richard P. Gibson Jr. with his fist "for no reason at all," Kajtsa said.
The attacker left, but soon returned with a foot-long tree branch, police said. He began yelling at Jessica Freeman, 36, who was phoning police when he struck her on the side of the head with the branch.
"She crumbled to the ground and passed out," said Bryant W. Marlin, 29. He said he watched a group of people chase and beat the man in the street.
It is unclear how many participated in his beating and capture. Police said they were unsure what group organized the food giveaway.
The man was so incoherent that he could not give his name, police said. His condition was not available.
None of the people who beat the man face charges, police said, adding that they have not determined whether Free Bird will be charged.
Many homeless people in Williams Park on Wednesday supported the reaction of the crowd.
"When a woman gets beat on, especially out here, we don't take to that," Marlin said.
Casey Cora can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or at [email protected]