UPDATE: FBI investigating beating of Native American man as hate - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: FBI investigating beating of Native American man as hate crime

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BRADLEY COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

The FBI is now investigating whether an assault, in which a  Native American man was brutally beaten, was a hate crime.

Three people were arrested for the crime, involving the victim, 60-year-old, James Russell in Bradley County.

READ MORE | Native American veteran brutally beaten in Red Clay State Park shares his story

It happened at a house on Red Clay Road in November. The Bradley County Sheriff's Office calls the attack a case of mistaken identity that led to aggravated assault but the FBI will look into whether the racial slurs said during the attack, could result in it being classified a hate crime. 

READ MORE | Mistaken identity leads to attack on man at Red Clay State Park

It's not easy building cabinets with 3 broken ribs but James Russell doesn't mind a challenge. He's back at work but still recovering.  

"It's been a long road and I definitely wouldn't have made it this far without the prayers and support," said victim James Russell.  

Deputies say on November 9th, three strangers followed Russell to Red Clay State Park where he lives to accuse him of running a family member off the road. 
When he denied involvement, they attacked and the beating put him in ICU with a collapsed lung. 

Russell told Channel 3 back then that he believed the attack was a hate crime.

"He grabbed my ponytail, pulled my head back until I was looking into his eyes and said I think I'll scalp you... I always wanted to scalp an Indian. At that point I did not think I was going to make it through the night," said Russell. 

Deputies found Christopher Hinds holding Russell in a choke hold but it was Russell who was put in handcuffs first, made to take a breathalyzer test to clear his name 

Hinds was charged with aggravated assault, the other 2 suspects went home.

Officials told us they later learned about the alleged racial comments from a third party but weren't told about them at the scene. 

After a follow-up interview, deputies charged Joshua Finley and Christopher's wife Stephanie Hinds with criminal liability for conduct of another and aggravated assault. 

Authorities say the FBI, TBI and District Attorney's office are also reviewing the case to see if the circumstances qualify for a hate crime. 

"We're still reviewing it, we've contacted our District Attorney and also other agencies that incorporate the Federal Bureau of Investigation so they are looking at this looking at the circumstances of this case to see if it meets the criteria of a hate crime," said Bradford. "We want to make sure we bring the people that was involved in this incident to justice and make sure they have their day in court." 

Russell works just a few footsteps from a trail of tears exhibit at Red Clay State Park. He often teaches kids the Cherokee way of life. 

"The Cherokee have survived and we've strengthened and overcome," said Russell. 

He says the artwork reminds him just how important it is to make a stand for justice. 

"The struggle for the native people still continues, it's been going on for hundreds of years and its still going on," said Russell. "Hopefully one day there will be an end to it." 

Russell says he's been able to find strength in forgiveness. 

"I'm not forgetting what they did, I'm not excusing what they did, I'm not condoning what they did but in order for me to go on ...I have to forgive," said Russell.  

There is an online petition now circulating around asking the District Attorney in Bradley County to treat this case as a hate crime. It has more than 6 thousand signatures so far. 

"It's humbling to know that there is that many people that are concerned and care enough to lend their voice," said Russell. 

The three accused will be back in court on February 16, Bradley County deputies say they will follow instruction from the FBI when their investigation concludes. 

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