Portland police are investigating a stabbing early Thursday outside a Denny’s restaurant that left one man hospitalized with serious injuries.

Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch said during a news conference that the violence might have been racially motivated.

“One of the things that is being reported, is that at least at some point, racial slurs were being used,” Malloch told WCSH-TV. “Whether or not that’s what precipitated this, we still can’t say.”

The stabbing happened at the Denny’s on Brighton Avenue around 1:15 a.m., a short distance from PT’s Showclub, a strip club at 200 Riverside St., where police say a fight broke out between two groups of people.

The two groups were separated by staff at the strip club and left the business, then met up again in the Denny’s parking lot where the victim was stabbed, according to a news release issued by Lt. James Sweatt.

Police said the victim was accompanied by two men. Two women were with the suspects at the time of the confrontation. Sweatt said police are trying to locate two black men, each about 5-foot-9 with short hair.

The 31-year-old victim, a man from Veazie in Penobscot County, was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he was in serious but stable condition, Sweatt said. His name had not been released as of Thursday evening.

Sweatt said detectives spent the early morning hours locating and talking to people involved in the incident, but they need to talk to others.

At the restaurant Thursday, business had returned to normal at 7:30 a.m., but blood stained the asphalt in the parking lot a few feet from the front door.

Jim Clark, the restaurant manager, said the people involved in the stabbing were not customers, and that the restaurant has no outward-facing security cameras that could have captured the moments leading up to the stabbing. However, police said detectives are reviewing security video from the strip club.

Police asked anyone who witnessed the stabbing or knows who was involved to call 874-8575.

The city’s other Denny’s restaurant, on Congress Street near Interstate 295, was the scene of a similar incident in April 1998, when a young man was stabbed to death in the parking lot.

Robert Joyal, 18, of Gorham was stabbed in the back during a fight and died. Police arrested 15-year-old Seiha Srey, but the charges were later withdrawn because of inconsistent witness statements and other weaknesses in the case. Srey, who remained a suspect, was shot and killed in Saco in 2007 during what police said was a dispute over drug money. Joyal’s killing was never officially resolved.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

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