BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO)-- Bowling Green defense attorney Brian Lowder says his client, former Western Kentucky tight end Tyler Higbee, plans to enter a "not guilty" plea on charges of second degree assault and fleeing or evading police.
Higbee admitted, however, that he was involved in the altercation in question.
"He did strike the individual in an effort to defend himself as well as his girlfriend from physical force and the threat of physical force," Lowder said. "My understanding of the event are that Mr. Higbee and his girlfriend were waiting in line to purchase some food and and Mr. Alsaleh approached his (Higbee's) girlfriend from behind, there was some, uh, discussions. Some sort of an inappropriate behavior on Mr. Alsaleh's part.
"Mr. Higbee asked Mr. Alsaleh to refrain from any other contact or conversation with his girlfriend. At that point, it's my understanding that Mr. Alselah escalated the situation, confronted Mr. Higbee, put his head into his chest, began shouting in Arabic, in what Mr. Higbee appeared to be threatening, threatening remarks, he didn't understand it but the tone and the nature of his actions indicated to Mr. Higbee that it was physical threats and then at that point, Mr. Alsaleh physically shoved Mr. Higbee's girlfriend, which resulted in Mr. Higbee striking Mr. Alsaleh one time."
Lowder said he believes Higbee's actions, in the early hours of Sunday morning, were simply self-defense.
"We believe the physical force that was utilized was justifiable under the Kentucky penal code, by all accounts he was defending – you know, he was taught to stand up for himself and stand up for others and Mr. Higbee was standing up for himself, defending himself as well as defending his girlfriend," he said.
According to Lowder, 23-year-old Higbee had no prior citations other than a traffic violation.
The victim, 24-year-old Nawaf Alsaleh, has been booked in the Warren County Regional Jail five times since September 2014 according to the jail's website, but three of those bookings were to serve a nine-day sentence over three consecutive weekends stemming from a single DUI charge.
"Mr. Higbee has no criminal background other than maybe a traffic citation," Loweder said. "He has no prior issues, certainly not with violence, no issues with alcohol, this isn't something that- there's no pattern of this behavior with Mr. Higbee. On the other hand, Mr. Alsaleh appears to have problems with his decision making when he's under the influence of alcohol, he's got two DUI's within two years, both of which he blew over twice the legal limit.
"I believe they have a current active warrant for him for not doing what he was supposed to do with respect to his second DUI offense."
Higbee admitted to hitting Alsaleh, but insists he did not evade police, according to Lowder.
"Higbee refutes that he evaded police, he did leave the scene, but once he encountered the police, he stopped and he cooperated then and he's continuing to cooperate," the attorney said.
Lowder also said his client has expressed remorse: "He is sorry for what ended up happening to Mr. Alsaleh."
Skyline Medical Center said Alsaleh is in serious condition as of Monday afternoon, diagnosed with a concussion and hemorrhage.
Higbee's attorney said their best defense is Higbee's clean record.
"I think his record speaks for itself, that he's been in Bowling Green and a student-athlete here for four years and has had an exemplary record both in the classroom, on the hill and in the community," Lowder said. "So I think his history here in our town speaks for itself."
In the interview with Lowder, WBKO inquired about the witnesses that stated Higbee made racially charged comments (witness and police statements can be found in the attached stories) toward Alsaleh. At the time, Lowder said, "Mr. Higbee entirely disputes that this was racially-motivated or that he made racial slurs of any kind. There were other people that were there, somebody else may have said something, Mr. Higbee did not. This had nothing to do with race. It had nothing to do with the characterization of this in any way as some sort of act of hate is completely inappropriate and couldn't be further from the truth."
Lowder later sent WBKO another statement, saying, "We don't give much credibility to anonymous statements made to the media when it concerns something of this magnitude. Furthermore, the witnesses' account of the incident was grossly inaccurate. However, it is difficult to cross examine an anonymous person."
Witnesses also claimed that Higbee's girlfriend told them Higbee and Alsaleh knew each other. Lowder also responded to those claims, "It's my understanding there may have been a previous encounter between Mr. Alsaleh and Mr. Higbee's girlfriend at the previous establishment that they were at, but that's the extent of my knowledge in regard to that."
Higbee is considered one of the top tight end prospects in the upcoming NFL draft. Lowder said he hopes the judge will allow Higbee to continue in his pursuit to play professional football.
"We will ask the court for any relief to allow Mr. Higbee to work," Lowder said. "You know, the NFL and his potential to earn a living playing professional football is a job, the court is usually accommodating for any individual, especially someone such as Mr. Higbee who has no criminal history. We will expect that we will have bonding conditions that will allow him to continue doing what he's doing."
The 2016 NFL Draft is April 28-30. Higbee is scheduled to appear in court May 5.