Conor Kennedy, the former boyfriend of Taylor Swift and grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct early Thursday morning after he was in a fight with another man outside a Colorado nightclub.
But according to his cousin Matthew “Max” Kennedy Jr. — who police say was on the scene at the time — the incident was actually a two-on-one battle with Conor defending himself from two aggressors who had earlier used homophobic slurs to offend their gay mutual friend.
In an interview with PEOPLE, Max, 23, describes the events outside the Bootsy Bellows nightclub in Aspen, Colorado, as “a lot of chaos.”
“There was a lot going on [at the scene],” he claims — noting that he had first seen police pull the two men off of someone they were choking before the duo engaged in fisticuffs with Conor.
The unidentified men, who Max claims were between 23 and 24 years old, were strangers to both Conor and Max. But Max claims that he heard them use the word “f——” towards his gay friend.
The treatment “was continuous and vaguely threatening,” he says. “I can’t speak out to how [my gay friend] felt at all — that’s completely up to him. But they were definitely seeking to intimidate him.”
Max — who is the son of Max Kennedy Sr., the brother of Conor’s dad, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — claims he witnessed Conor approach the two men to address their homophobic slur and ask them to apologize before the fight began. Max says he was the only person in the immediate vicinity of the conversation, “probably two feet away” when the fight broke out.
“It began as a two-on-one fight, I’m positive,” he claims. “[Conor] definitely got punched.”
The fight “wasn’t very long at all” — between 10 and 15 seconds, by Max’s estimate.
Aspen police said in a news release that they were originally called to the scene of Bootsy Bellows “for a report of a person who was refusing to leave the premises.” While responding to that incident at about 1:40 a.m, they witnessed the fight occurring between Conor and another man.
Officers said they witnessed Conor throw “approximately four or five punches to the head of the other party” before separating the two men. Conor, who was continuing to struggle, was restrained by an officer with the help of a bystander. No injuries were reported for either party.
Asked why police said there was only one other person fighting with Conor at the time of his arrest, Max claims that one of the other men fighting Conor “was knocked down and might not have been actively fighting by the time the officers were involved.”
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Conor was booked on a municipal disorderly conduct charge, reportedly a misdemeanor-level offense, and was later released from jail after being issued a court summons. The charge has a possible penalty of a year in jail and up to a $2,650 fine, according to police.
Conor has a court appearance set for Feb. 22. He has not entered a plea.
Conor’s attorneys told PEOPLE in a statement that “multiple witnesses to the incident have reported that two men assaulted Mr. Kennedy after he rebuked them for directing a homophobic slur and bullying his close friend.”
They added Conor was “cooperative, compliant and respectful” toward police and that “Mr. Kennedy looks forward to a full airing of the incident.”
One of Conor’s close friends says he arrived on the scene shortly after the fight and spoke with the alleged victim of the homophobic harassment. “He looked really pale [and] he was saying they were threatening him,” the friend tells PEOPLE.
Robert Kennedy, Jr. — Conor’s father — also told PEOPLE, “Like any father, I don’t want to see my son fighting or involved with the police. But on the other hand, I’m proud that he stands up to bullies.”
The Aspen police tell PEOPLE that Robert and Max’s story about Conor defending a friend who was called a homophobic slur was consistent with what he had told them after the incident, but that the friend in question has not come forward to the police to report being harassed.
“We’re digging a little more into that side of it,” police say of the harassment allegations.
The police also say that it was possible that the altercation started as a two-on-one fight but that officers only witnessed Conor fighting with one unidentified man. They have not yet interviewed that unidentified man, but they plan to.