Missouri man charged with felony after alleged racial slur

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Tommy Dean Gaa

MARYVILLE, MO (KCTV) – A white northwest Missouri man is charged with felony assault after he allegedly made a racially insensitive comment while confronting a black server as she took his breakfast order.

Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice announced Wednesday that he charged 65-year-old Tommy Dean Gaa, of Maryville, with felony assault motivated by discrimination.

Gaa is accused of confronting the woman on Sunday and grabbing her arm, causing bruising. A probable cause statement says Gaa said, “I have a place I would like to take you where I hung your grandpa” and used racial slurs.

Gaa was released from the Nodaway County Jail on $4,900 bond. Online records don’t indicate if he has an attorney.

Rice says the comments were bad enough, but Gaa crossed the line when he grabbed the woman who is of African-American descent.

“This girl was just doing her job,” Rice said. “She didn’t deserve this. He crossed the line. My heart goes out to the victim.”

The confrontation occurred Sunday morning as the waitress worked the food and coffee shop area at the Maryville Hy-Vee.

When the victim asked Gaa if he wanted white or wheat toast, Gaa allegedly replied, “I’m prejudiced. I’ll take white.”

The worker placed the order with the kitchen staff and then moved to a public area where Gaa allegedly grabbed her and made the racially insensitive comment. After Gaa let her go, the server retreated to the kitchen and the police were notified.

Gaa initially denied making those statements when interviewed by police, according to court documents. Gaa then admitted to being prejudiced, making the toast comment and grabbing her arm.

“He volunteered his opinion that, ‘There are good white people, there’s bad white people, there’s good (n-word) and there’s bad (n-word),'” according to a report from the Maryville Police Department.

Rice said he will aggressively prosecute the case. Because of the racial comments, Rice upgraded the assault from a misdemeanor to a felony.

“It offended me,” he said about the situation. “Here we treat with respect and dignity so when someone crosses the line they are going to be prosecuted… We will not stand for anybody who mistreats another person, especially because of the color of their skin or what they think is the color of their skin.”

He said the 20-year-old woman has handled the situation quite well under the circumstances, and he commended her for her bravery in reporting the incident.

“The restaurant has been very supportive,” the prosecutor said. “I can’t be more proud of the victim. She is a sweet girl and she works hard, has a couple of jobs and didn’t deserve this. She’s just doing her job and this guy comes up and he was being a jerk. But that crossed the line when he grabs her.”

Residents were dismayed by the allegations, but some wondered if a felony charge was excessive.

“It is discouraging to hear that anyone would treat anyone like that in Maryville,” said Tom DiStefano. “That’s one of the nice things about living here. It’s a nice family town and you don’t usually encounter things like that.”

By Betsy Webster, KCTV