In a widely shared Facebook video, a tearful state Rep. Erica Thomas accused a man later identified as Eric Sparkes of a racist attack during the encounter Friday. Thomas, a Democrat from Austell, said she was with her 9-year-old daughter at the time. She is also nine months pregnant.
"And this white man comes up to me and says, 'You lazy son of a bitch,'" Thomas said, sobbing as she described the confrontation. "He says, 'You lazy son of a bitch; you need to go back where you came from.'"
The confrontation came days after President Donald Trump tweeted that four Democratic congresswomen of color, including U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, should go back to the "broken and crime infested" countries they came from.
But Thomas' version of events was disputed by Sparkes a day later when he unexpectedly showed up during an interview between Thomas and television news crews outside the store. Both Sparkes and Thomas accused the other of lying about what happened.
In an interview with WSB-TV, Sparkes admitted to cursing at Thomas, but vehemently denied using racist language or telling her to "go back."
"She's doing it for political purposes. Period," Sparkes said, adding that he is a Democrat and of Cuban descent.
In a subsequent interview with the news station, Thomas appeared to walk back the assertion she made in her Facebook video that Sparkes had told her to "go back where you came from."
When asked by a reporter what Sparkes' exact words were, Thomas said, "He said 'go back,' those types of words. I don't want to say he said 'go back to your country' or 'go back to where you came from' but he was making those types of references is what I remember."
"But I know it was 'go back,'" she said.
Thomas then held a news conference Monday morning at the state Capitol to say she was not walking back her claims or changing her story. She didn't take any questions from reporters.
Several Democratic politicians voiced support for Thomas, while a number of Republicans latched onto the apparent discrepancy to accuse Thomas of orchestrating a hoax for political gain.
David Shafer, a former Republican lawmaker and current chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, said on Twitter that Thomas "should be sent home to Austell for manufacturing a #HateHoax."
Thomas' attorney Gerald Griggs has said his client was in "reasonable fear of receiving a violent injury" during the confrontation and says he's planning to bring evidence directly to the county's magistrate court if police won't file charges.
Griggs said Thomas is "resolute that she wants to stand as the voice of victims to not be afraid to come forward when incidents like this happen."
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