COLUMBIA, TN (WSMV) - A Popeyes employee was charged with aggravated assault after cell phone video captured a frightening scene in the restaurant’s parking lot Tuesday night.

Police arrested 29-year-old Deriance Ra'Shaiel Hughes after he body slammed a woman following a verbal altercation inside the restaurant.

Man arrested in connection to assault of grandmother at Popeye's

The video, which was posted on social media, shows a woman being picked up, then slammed to the ground.

The woman was identified by her attorney as 55-year-old Debra Staggs. Staggs has hired the Rocky McElhaney Law Firm. The firm said Staggs has nine fractures, six cracked ribs and a broken knee. She was undergoing surgery at Vanderbilt on Friday. 

There are conflicting versions of what happened leading up to the body slamming incident.

An employee’s husband told News 4’s Nancy Amons that Staggs had called employees a racial slur after they accidentally overcharged her for a sandwich. He said Staggs had kicked his wife.

Staggs' lawyers say their client denies using the n-word. They say Staggs came back to the Popeyes after checking her bank statement so that she could get a refund, and that the manager "immediately began insulting her."

Another video posted to social media showing the inside of the Popeye's during the incident captured the moments leading up to the assault. 

Near the beginning of the video, a man off-camera can be heard telling Staggs she is in the wrong place to be saying the n-word. Staggs cannot be heard using the slur over the course of the video.

The video also shows an irate Hughes screaming at Staggs, who is standing at the counter. Hughes had to be restrained by his coworkers. The manager and another employee told Staggs multiple times to leave, saying she was costing them business. Another employee repeatedly said, "Can you exit my store, please?" The manager told Staggs,"You got your money, now get out before I call the law on you and forcibly remove you," to which Staggs responded, "Lady, the law is my family."

Staggs' attorney told News4 that their client was "confused and frightened" and tried to leave the building, and that's when she was attacked. Witnesses tell News4 that Staggs left, but then tried to come back in the restaurant, and that's when she was assaulted.

Jeff Janssen, a Popeye’s employee, told Amons the worker who body-slammed Staggs was fired. 

“It was uncalled for. Wasn’t no reason for that,” Janssen told Amons. Columbia Police arrested 29-year-old Deriance Hughes Friday afternoon. He is charged with aggravated assault, a felony.

The tension was still so high outside the restaurant that police had to respond to a second incident Friday afternoon.

Mike Helms said he was inside the restaurant when he heard employees starting to argue with each other. He started recording it on his phone.

“There was a big screaming and shouting match. I broke out my phone and was going to record and one of the workers came and grabbed my phone out of my hand,” Helms told Amons. 

He said the person attempted to throw his phone to the ground but that he prevented that.

Several Columbia police officers spent he afternoon sorting things out.

The restaurant closed for the day by mid-afternoon. Staggs remains hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Staggs is a grandmother and the mother of a state trooper, according to the McElhaney Law Firm.

Columbia Police says the assault investigation is ongoing and that there is  video evidence of the assault captured by the store’s own security cameras. Investigators believe more charges may be coming in the incident.

Hughes is being held in jail on a $20,000 open court bond, and will need to go before a judge before he can be released.

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Reporter

Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 Investigates team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

Multimedia Producer

Kyle is a Multimedia Producer at WSMV. He is a proud graduate of Virginia Tech, where he majored in multimedia journalism with a minor in psychology. Send him news tips or food recommendations to kyle.cooke@wsmv.com

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