Shaun King, the so-called “Facebook pastor” who has become one of the leading activists in the Black Lives Matter movement, has often told the story of a brutal, racially-motivated beating he suffered in 1995 as a sophomore at a rural Kentucky high school. King, 35, has related the story of the hate crime on his blogs and in his recent self-help book, seemingly to bolster his credibility as an activist and as a self-help guru.
But King’s telling of the assault does not match up with a police report from the case. Details provided to The Daily Caller by the detective who investigated the incident, which occurred at Woodford County High School in Versailles on March 1, 1995, cast even more doubt on King’s claims.
While King has said that he was attacked by up to a dozen “racist” and “redneck” students, official records show that the altercation involved only one other student. And while King has claimed that he suffered a “brutal” beating that left him clinging to life, the police report characterized King’s injuries as “minor.”
At least two profiles written about King have asserted that the assault was one of Kentucky’s first registered hate crimes. But Keith Broughton, the former Versailles police detective, told TheDC that the case was never classified as a hate incident.
And none of the sources that keep track of hate crimes, such as the FBI, have records of one having occurred at the high school at that time.
King became a prominent national figure in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., when he and a small group of online activists used their Twitter accounts to draw attention to the case.
King was one of the activists who pushed the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative, which was based on the claim that Brown was surrendering with his hands up when he was shot. That claim was disputed by numerous witnesses to the shooting.
King parlayed his activism into a gig as a justice blogger at the left-wing website Daily Kos. He has also helped form a group called Justice Together. King sits on the board of directors with fellow Ferguson activist DeRay McKesson, Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump, and Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who has worked closely with NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
After Ferguson, King became a prominent player in the case of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy killed by a police officer as he was holding a fake gun in November. He also offered a $10,000 bounty anyone who would remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds.
Prior to his entree into activist circles, King was the pastor of the Atlanta-based Courageous Church. He left in 2011 amid a conflict with the church’s board of directors, but while in charge, King began using Facebook and Twitter to help fund philanthropic efforts. He started several companies, including HopeMob, Twit Change and A Home in Haiti, which was formed in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake there.
Those endeavors have raised questions as well. Though they’ve generated millions of dollars in donations, the Internet is littered with accusations that King has used these organizations and fundraisers to enrich himself. King has denied all of those accusations, but has provided little transparency into where funds he raised have gone.
In promoting his philanthropic and activist work, King tells about his 1995 assault for two purposes. Not only does the story bolster King’s place as a civil rights activist, he has used it as a motivational tool to teach his followers about overcoming adversity.
“Everything about my physical life changed on March 8, 1995,” King wrote in “The Power of 100!,” a self-help book he published this year. Besides getting the date of the incident wrong, King’s story does not match up with the official record.
“For the year and a half of high school before that day, I had been harassed almost daily by a growing group of self-proclaimed rednecks,” King wrote, claiming that he had been forced to fight, had his books and belongings thrown in the trash, and been called racist names.
On his blog, King claimed that he was “mobbed and beaten to a pulp by a group of racist teenagers.” Elsewhere he has said that “a group of guys” in the school beat him “within a few inches of my life.”
A March 2012 profile of King in Rebel Magazine stated that “during his freshman year of high school, Shaun King was savagely beaten by a dozen self-described ‘rednecks’ in one of Kentucky’s first registered hate crimes.”
In March 2013, Forbes magazine reported that “as a fifteen-year-old [King] was beaten so badly in what was one of the first registered hate crimes in the state that he needed a series of surgeries that required two years.”
King has repeatedly stated that he suffered fractures to his face, ribs and back, and required three spine surgeries because of that beating. A fellow classmate of King’s who remembered hearing about the fight said that King left the school after the incident and began attending another one nearby.
When TheDC called the cell phone number listed at the end of King’s book — and registered to Courageous Church — a man answered and said, “Sorry, you have the wrong number, man,” and hung up.
Reached by email, King declined to comment and speculated about TheDC’s motivations.
“Feel free to roll with the story you’ve compiled as is without my input. I’ve spoken extensively about my experiences and stand by them,” King said.
TheDC sent a follow-up email encouraging King to provide any information to support his past comments. “I pass Chuck,” he responded. “The Daily Caller, in my opinion, is hateful and has nothing but bad intentions with this piece from my childhood over 20 years ago.”
“You should run your piece as is and let it stand on its own merit man if you feel good about it.”
NEXT PAGE: No Evidence Besides King’s Claims That The Incident Was Classified As A Hate Crime
There is no evidence besides King’s claims that the incident at Woodford County High School was ever classified as a hate crime. Reached by TheDC, the FBI field office in Louisville said it has no record of a hate crime from that time period or location.
The police report from the incident also had no mention of race being a factor in the assault. Furthermore, Keith Broughton, the detective who worked the case, told TheDC that the incident was not reported as a hate crime.
In fact, Broughton said that the incident report characterized it as a one-on-one fight and not a gang attack. Broughton said that according to a more detailed case report not provided to TheDC, the suspect claimed that a conflict involving his girlfriend is what led to the fight with King.
The assailant said at the time that two weeks prior to the fight his girlfriend was involved in a confrontation with King over a broken CD. A day or two before the fight, the suspect said that King demanded that the suspect’s girlfriend pay him back for the CD. According to Broughton, the suspect and his girlfriend claimed that King had pushed her.
According to the police report, Woodford County High School principal Peter LeFaivre called police to report that a student had been assaulted by another student. The victim, King, had been transported by his mother to the local hospital. King is not listed by name in the report, though his mother is.
Broughton went to the hospital and spoke with King, who is bi-racial, and his mother, according to the report. Though King claimed to have suffered fractures to his face as the result of being stomped by steel-toed boots, Broughton reported at the time only that “the victim had an abrasion to his right cheek.” He did report that King was “complaining of possible rib and back injuries” but that, overall, he suffered an “apparent minor injury.”
Broughton then went to the school to meet with LeFaivre, who provided copies of statements from students and a teacher who witnessed the assault. None of those statements said that the assault involved a racial element. LeFaivre has since retired and could not be reached for comment.
The parent of the accused student arrived at the school and took custody of him, according to the report. Like King’s, the student’s name is redacted.
In his self-help book, King described the day in question in more dramatic terms.
He said he was near the gym with some friends when he saw a group of 25 students gathered around what he thought was a fight that had just ended. King said that he had to walk through the crowd to get to band class.
“The closer I got to the crowd, though, the stranger it seemed,” King wrote. “Had I known that I was about to enter into the wolf’s den, I would have turned around.”
King wrote that a “faceless male voice” said, “There he is. That’s Shaun King.”
King said he continued walking through the crowd, but that “the cluster of bodies had stiffened up around me.” Then he was attacked by the large group, he wrote.
“About midway through, I felt a heavy thud on the back of my head. In an instant the crowd swarmed me and started punching from every angle. What felt like an hour but was probably more like fifteen seconds passed before I fell to the ground. Stomped from my face to my feet with steel-toed boots, I heard voices laughing at my broken body as I involuntarily curled up into the fetal position.”
King said that a few fellow classmates pushed their way to help him and “found me a bloody mess on the floor.”
“I was physically ruined,” he wrote. “Fractures in my face and ribs, permanently injured sinuses and a severely damaged spine.”
“I’ve been in some kind of pain every day of my life.”
King has made reference on his blog to his mother’s three-year legal battle with the Woodford County school district over the assault. TheDC contacted the school district to find out if a lawsuit had ever been filed in the case. An official said that records don’t go back that far. Broughton told TheDC that the school paid to replace King’s glasses, which were apparently broken during the fight.