CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Matthew Whitehurst is a 23-year-old Air Force jet engine mechanic who has served in the Middle East, Japan, and South Korea. But, it's an assault in Uptown Charlotte that could keep him from a special deployment to Europe next month.
"I'm angry and I want whoever did this to pay for what they did," Matthew's father, Todd Whitehurst, said.
He said his son and two friends spent Saturday night at the Panthers game. They left early, headed to uptown for some pizza.
Matthew told his father the three walked by the Transit Center just as protesters against the Kerrick Mistrial got to the Transit Center and the EpiCenter. He said they were assaulted - he was sucker punched from behind. The blow fractured his jaw.
Todd Whitehurst said his son told him that he "turned around, saw a black male with a red bandana and dreadlocks as the one he said hit him. And there was probably 15 to 20 of them that looked like that."
Matthew and his friends said they walked immediately about a half block to where police were standing and filed a police report.
Todd Whitehurst said "Charlotte-Mecklenburg police did not at their request go down to where those guys were hanging out to point them out."
A spokesperson for Charlotte Mecklenburg Police told WBTV the case is still under investigation. Officers said they didn't know if it was a protester who hit Matthew Whitehurst. Police said they know the assault happened at the Transit Center around the time demonstrators were there.
"I don't think it's anyone that blended into the crowd. I think it's a group of gangs," Todd Whitehurst said. "And there are valid protesters in their opinion that have the right to do whatever they want to. But I think some of these gang elements get in there and think it's an excuse to do something when they don't have a right to."
Now, three days later, the young serviceman is in agony - unable to open his mouth.
Todd Whitehurst said he is extremely upset. While his son initially refused medical attention, he didn't make it very far when his friends were forced to call an Uber driver for a ride to the hospital.
Matthew Whitehurst had surgery Tuesday morning.
"I just drove my son home who has his jaw wired shut, and a mandible fracture in two with a plate and his jaw wired shut. And he threw up on the way home with his mouth shut."
Todd Whitehurst said he wants justice for his son. He wants police to check surveillance cameras around the Transit Center to see if the attack was caught on camera.
"A bunch of hoodlums that are throwing their lives away punched my son from behind who is serving his country and has his stuff together," Todd Whitehurst said.
Saturday, a week after the attack, Todd Whitehurst said Matthew was "recovering well," but is ready for the wires from the surgery to come off.