Evidence of racial tension, calls for communication in wake of Mall beating

  • 34 COMMENTS
Baughan Roemer met with the mother of one of his teenaged assailants nearly two years after he was attacked on the Downtown mall decades ago. “That was good healing,” he said. Photo: Courteney Stuart Baughan Roemer met with the mother of one of his teenaged assailants nearly two years after he was attacked on the Downtown mall decades ago. “That was good healing,” he said. Photo: Courteney Stuart

A week after Charlottesville police admitted they’d mishandled an investigation into a pre-Christmas Downtown Mall assault that brought national attention of the wrong sort, details of what sparked the incident are foggier than ever. Surveillance video from a nearby bank has proved useless, and neither victims nor police are making further statements citing the ongoing investigation—the same reason police are withholding a recording of a single 911 call made in response to the violent altercation.

What is clear is that the incident has raised questions about safety on the Downtown Mall as well as stirring racist sentiments sparked especially by photos the white victims claim show their three black assailants in the act of the attack. News of the reported assault first spread on Facebook after the victims posted their accounts and then photos. C-VILLE’s subsequent online report was picked up by the conservative news aggregation website The Drudge Report on Monday, December 30, and quickly went viral, landing on several white supremacy sites. Some of those readers appear to have then bombarded the C-VILLE website with racist vitriol and personal threats, leading the paper to shut down the comments under the story, which was read by more than 400,000 people in less than 24 hours.

Some of those who work in the trenches of Charlottesville race relations aren’t surprised by the simmering racial resentment that poured out online, even before the story went national.

“There’s very little we know about how it started, but the amount of vituperative racial mudslinging screams, that’s a whole ’nother story in itself,” said Walt Heinecke, a member of the city’s Dialogue on Race volunteer task force and one of the original proponents of Charlottesville’s newly formed Human Rights Commission. “The whole thing about race in Charlottesville is nowhere near over,” said Heinecke.

Wes Bellamy—an African American community leader who narrowly lost the Democratic primary for City Council in 2013— echoed Heinecke’s sentiments.

“We need to have honest dialogue,” said Bellamy, the founder of Helping Young People Evolve (H.Y.P.E.), a nonprofit which provides low-income local youth with homework help, mentoring, and boxing instruction aimed at increasing their confidence and self-discipline. “Some of the e-mails I’ve been getting afterwards say, ‘Young, black kids may be this, may be that, they’re making it unsafe, they’re hoodlums.’”

As previously reported, the December 20 incident occurred around 1am as musician Marc Adams and his girlfriend, Jeanne Doucette, were walking from Miller’s restaurant to Rapture and suffered what they say was an unprovoked assault by three black males that resulted in serious injuries to Adams, who lost a tooth and suffered cracked ribs and a fractured ankle. Doucette, who said she was also struck, took photos of the men as other people appeared to be calling 911.

According to Kathy Richardson of the Emergency Communications Center, a single 911 call was placed to that location on December 20. C-VILLE’s FOIA request for that phone call was denied pending completion of the investigation.

Following the attack, Doucette offered a statement to police, but Adams refused to speak with the responding officers or to receive medical assistance, something he attributes to a head injury, noting he’d been briefly knocked unconscious and repeating what he said Doucette has told him, that he was trying to go home. On Saturday, December 21, he called police to add his statement to Doucette’s.

While Doucette and Adams hoped surveillance video from the bank would bolster their claims, police did not formally request the video until a week later. When Doucette called to check on the status of  the investigation on Sunday, December 29, she was told it had been suspended due to a lack of information and had not been assigned to a detective. Frustrated, she posted her photos to Facebook that evening, and the following morning, Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo released a statement announcing two detectives had been assigned to the case and promising an internal investigation into the “breakdown” that had prevented that from happening earlier.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Ronnie Roberts declined to offer any details about the content of surveillance videos or any other evidence collected thus far in the investigation, but according to a Wells Fargo spokesperson, the bank’s surveillance won’t help. The only camera on the building’s exterior is aimed parallel to the Mall, pointing at the ATM in the glass vestibule next to the bank’s main entrance. It does not capture footage of what is taking place feet away on the bricks of the Downtown Mall, which means Doucette’s photos may be the only evidence that corroborates her account of what occurred. Since Adams said he was knocked unconscious and has no memory of the attack and its aftermath, Doucette may also be the only eyewitness.

Doucette said she didn’t hear Adams say anything to provoke the assault, and she describes her boyfriend as “nonconfrontational.” Her recollection of the assailants hugging, high fiving, and laughing during the attack—something she appears to have captured in one of her photos—led both her and Adams to wonder if the assault might have been a form of the so-called “knockout game,” in which assailants attempt to knock victims unconscious with a single punch, then post a video online. However, they said they’d found no evidence online that the assailants had recorded the attack, and they also expressed doubt that the attack was inspired by race.

“People of any race can be jerks,” said Adams.

A victim of another high-profile Mall beating agrees.

Back in 1994, Baughan Roemer was assaulted on the Downtown Mall in an incident that bears eerie similarities to the recent attack and also created hysteria about racially motivated violence on the Mall.

Roemer was leaving Miller’s sometime around midnight one night in June of that year when he noticed a group of six young black males standing near the building that now houses Wells Fargo bank, where the recent assault took place.

Two teens in the group called out to him, telling him he owed them a dollar. Then they attacked, punching, kicking, and striking him with a broken bottle as he curled into a fetal position on the Mall, screaming and yelling for help until they fled.

Twenty years ago, cell phones were still a rarity, and Roemer, who lived on the Mall at the time, relates to what Adams has described as a post-assault desire to go home. Roemer, too, first began walking toward his apartment, but fear that he might bleed to death from the wound in his head caused him to turn and stagger back towards Miller’s, where patrons called 911 and he was transported to UVA hospital for treatment.

As with the recent attack, Roemer, then a Downtown business owner who was also a member of the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation, said the investigation into his assault was slow to start, although a witness reported seeing teens fitting the description of his attackers getting into a car nearby that night. Days after the assault, still bearing visible injuries, he appeared before City Council, and he credits subsequent heavy media coverage as critical to the successful apprehension of all six assailants within 10 days.

“A couple of them were on drugs that night,” he said, noting that testimony in his case revealed the teens—all of whom were convicted of assault related charges—had been in other city locations earlier in the evening looking for someone, anyone, to jump. “It was more like a crime of opportunity and anonymity,” he said. “I don’t feel I was targeted because I was white.”

Although the motives and details of the recent assault are still unknown, Roemer feels strongly that lessons from his own attack apply to Charlottesville today.

“We need to tone it down and realize that these types of crimes can happen anywhere, at any time,” he said. “Reckless, mean behavior is color-blind.”

In addition, Roemer hopes another outcome of the recent incident will be increased focus on keeping Downtown safe, including reassessing how the Mall is policed.

That’s a topic that Longo has brought to the attention of City Council several times over the past few years, including in 2012 when he requested additional funding for police kiosks, surveillance cameras, and added foot patrol at a cost of approximately $1 million annually, according to a January 2013 Daily Progress report. His request was denied.

Longo declined C-VILLE’s interview requests, but according to former Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, whose City council term ended in December, Downtown crime was down 40 percent in 2013 from 2012. In a Facebook post written on December 30, the day the story of the recent assault went viral, Norris warned against overreaction and expressed concern that the fear drummed up over the latest incident would lead not only to greater alienation between Charlottesville’s white and black residents but also would help create community support for surveillance cameras on the Mall, a move civil libertarians warn comes at another cost.

“I hope none of this comes to pass and that we in Charlottesville avoid the temptation to escalate and overreact,” Norris wrote.

Bellamy and Heinecke both agree that overreaction won’t help, and that finding and prosecuting those responsible for the assault is a priority. But no less important, they both said, is how the community responds.

“I’d like to see Town Hall meetings,” said Bellamy, “where people see each other as people. How powerful would it be if we could have people from Belmont and Friendship Court, talking with each other, building with each other, having honest dialogue. Not all white people are bad; not all black people are bad. Both sides need to begin seeing that, having those conversations, so we can begin to move forward. If you don’t talk to people, how are you going to know?”

  • Kirsten

    That forum for “community conversation” was a topic on the table at Toan Nguyen’s first of many to come “Jeffersonian” dinners this past Sunday night. Of note were the rare occasions for these two communities to mix, and the need for finding common ground. First up, recognizing that there is a problem, and developing a community will to find solutions.

  • Bradley Mead

    The reason this case was handled is quite simple. Math. The case was never filed because if it were it would be one more unsolved case, ergo, the percentage of unsolved cases rises. Its a common tactic used in law enforcement to make themselves feel better. Unfortunately for the average citizen we feel the consequences, literally, on the street. Answer, get the cops out of their cars and on the street, literally. Thats the only way to deal with these degenerates. My ex worked for the Cville PD and quit because of no integrety within the department. That still exists today to witt this case.

    • datcv

      That’s why we need to get rid of a lot of the protections the police have been granted by their union contracts. In the private sector, most of us can be fired for incompetence. In the public sector, cops can get away with literal murder. Some of the local departments in central Virginia have a better record than a lot of places, but lets not forget that in Culpeper a cop nearly got away with murdering a woman except for the intense and continued scrutiny by the citizens there.

  • RandomThoughts

    How about a breakdown of the violent crime police reports in Charlottesville with a description of the attackers from the witnesses or victims of reported crimes in the reports . Maybe we can find a trend all local News and PD’s are trying to hide.

    All local news outlets seem to have a trend going on along with the Charlottesville PD of not reporting descriptions of wanted people or peoples of violent crime in Charlottesville .

    Why would a news report of a crime come out along with a police dept plea for help identifying or any information of the “alleged” criminal(s) seem to be missing some very important identifying features.

    One New Years ONE block from off the mall and the largest celebrations of the year another attack was reported . With exception of one local news source the description of the attackers had been removed.

    Anyone want to take a shot at explaining why ?

    • lyndon johnson

      this will solve all the racial issues and clean up crime and assaults: install cameras in lee park and DTM, provide adequate police foot patrols on the mall that would last at least until 3am every day, install a police kiosk at central place according to specifications of chief longo….its the responsibility of city council to provide safety for the public….they have failed miserably on this

      • RandomThoughts

        I am not sure what or where DTM is .

        I agree on all other aspects with exception a civilized society is has no need for cameras everywhere.

        • lyndon johnson

          DTM= downtown mall

          • RandomThoughts

            Thank you , now I feel like an idiot :)

            But that’s ok … I usually am

  • JP

    We should all try to keep in mind that the people in these photos are only the “alleged attackers” — and to the extent of our knowledge, that’s only according to Doucette and Adams. The police have yet to actually file any charges on anyone… so we don’t even know if the men pictured are the TRUE people in question.

    Maybe this whole thing isn’t about race at all…

    • Bruno Hob

      Given the context, a victim’s posting of photographs taken during the aattackt ( were they staged?) you do, in my view, “protest too much.” Granted they arn’t guilty (that’s legal).But the “only” probable attackers -er, yeah.

      • JP

        It doesn’t seem that we have enough facts to draw any real conclusions.

    • RandomThoughts

      You were correct at one time .

      Not anymore. But pay attention to the lengthy presser by the PD and how much time passed before the public was notified . I cannot recall a 20 min presser over simple assault in my time. What you seen was a PD trying to backtrack and then calm things down at the same time to just make things go away.

      I am guessing the PD and limp wristed local prosecutors needed plenty of time to wiggle out of possible hate crime charges or even as much as felony assault.

      Looks like Nelson County is about to cut lose a possible murderer and a family will find no justice because if there is no body or pictures of the wounds then it didn’t happen , correct ?

  • Bruno Hob

    Let me say right off–The deep issue isn’t race but thuggery. So
    please, this time don’ t delete my remarks! But there is a dichotomy in
    discourse on these events that needs to be addressed. If I am walking
    down the street and a car of passing white men abuses me with the “N
    word”, Cville will have no problem with an online dialogue on racism. But
    what if what happened was passing black men and the word was
    “cracker”: or “honkey”? (as has happened to me several times).
    Specifically, are Liberals prepared to admit that racism might sometimes
    be a component of black-on- white crime and that it is a social issue that
    needs to be addressed if only as topic?? (And I write as a Liberal who
    has never voted for a Republican.) Now let’s test your liberalism- does
    this remark stay?

  • Bruno Hob

    May I also ask, I am asking- what is the issue here as regards “residents also would help create community support for surveillance
    cameras on the Mall, a move civil libertarians warn comes at another
    cost.” What is the cost? I spend at lot of time in London.I don’t free less free there because cameras are all over. I feel more free because thugs are deterred (this is statistically proven). If you feel less free because innocent behavior might be Orwellian criminalized under the view of cameras, the real issue isn’t cameras but the Constitution and our society.

    • RandomThoughts

      The attack at hand of discussion had pictures up close and personal .

      What purpose did the camera serve ? They couldn’t protect themselves with it , the police were not interested in using the pictures or even filing a report until it made national news, only then the butt covering began .

      There ARE pictures , where are the arrest ? Is there a reward ? What good did film do ? The bank had cameras , again of no use .

      Now had they had a Glock 45 , then things would have been a little different maybe .

      I am considering renting AR-15′s and Glock 45′s on the downtown mall , nice little kiosk so people may once again feel free to enjoy the mall .

      I may want to throw in some body armor to protect visitors from the police … they tend to be trigger happy over that way… and yes even then the PD has little to share when they drop a citizen as do the local news sources who are in their back pockets .

      • Common sense

        Yes, because handing out guns is always the proper solution, so the three men could have just shot mr. adams dead with your rented glock. perfect.

        • SryMrsJackson

          Arm law abiding citizens and criminals don’t repeat offend.

        • crudbud

          not a gun fan but what are people like these victims to do? hole up in the little apartment watching tv and fearing to go outside into the world. when the police are mia who is to protect us. it might be ok with you but if the police don’t protect me and my family, I want the right to do so.

        • RandomThoughts

          Most violent criminals don;t buy or rent their guns.

          They steal them

  • lovinggunmaker

    Was the C-ville weekly aware of the connotations of the words “Knockout Game”? Are the people that decide what gets published so clueless as to not know that their click-bait title would invite white supremacists to their site? Was it the same person that decided to publish a racist rant a few months back?

    The C-ville weekly would incite racial hatred if it increased traffic and ad revenue, it appears.

    • crudbud

      If you have roaches in your kitchen do you keep the lights off so you do not see them when you get up at night to grab a snack? Is it really racist to report the facts?

      • lovinggunmaker

        Where did I mention reporting the facts? Please reread my comment slowly. Try to understand the words that are contained within. When you arrive at that place where you understand what I’m saying then, and only then, respond if you see fit.

        Your comment is definitely not related to the comment I made, so I’m at a loss as to how to respond to you.

        I hope you have a good day.

      • datcv

        There was no evidence that this was the “Knockout Game” and they should have avoided using that term.

        Now that we have more facts, it sounds like there was a drunken confrontation between the victims and assailants with one of the victims was made fun of when he tripped and fell. I would like to know how that confrontation started and escalated.

  • Jim McKinley-Oakes

    My heart goes out to Marc and Jeanne. And I appreciate there sentiment that this incident not be used to incite racism.

    Asfar as the question of witnesses- it seems that the police would have the identity of the witness who placed the 911 call…

    • RandomThoughts

      Of course they do . The police appear to have one goal in this recent crime .

      Make it go away .

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OshpSD0z1ts Phaerisee

    I know several people that have been tuning into this story on a national level. I must admit it fascinates me that in this day and age we can have clear videos of the suspect’s faces and yet have no one in custody. Maybe the focus should be on the cops here instead of the racial angle.

    • crudbud

      the police have become the new storm troopers of the Progs.

  • abbeyconway

    Communication? Communication??? No! It calls for a vigilante committee.

  • jl

    “police did not formally request the video until a week later.” Giving the bank time to claim they’d disposed of an old tape. The police were lucky to get anything at all after a week

  • crudbud

    It was an awful crime. If they are sure these two alleged perps did it, they should prosecute them with full force. Misdemeanor? This crime strikes at the very heart of our society. It suppresses the right to go out into a public place at night, shop, eat, see a movie, walk, enjoy the environment and in general pursue happiness. Regardless of the race of the victim or the perps, this was a very very serious crime.

    The police department, this newspaper, the DA, and the people of this city should be ashamed of themselves for not having the courage to protect this young couple who represent all that is good and important to our society and culture.

  • Millionsix

    The “communication” should be between the public and the legal system that keeps allowing these lowlife thugs to return to the streets after committing violent crimes.

  • Sequoia

    The thugs are the ones who talk about waving guns around from behind a computer screen. Good people talk with each other, work together, keep their eyes open and look out for one another.
    Take your pea-shooters to Wall Street if you’ve got the guts to face the real criminals. See how far that pathetic Glock gets you.
    Otherwise you’re just the latest version of poor white trash: bowing to your betters while trying to talk like you’re better than at least one group. You’re not better. Thugs are thugs.
    Weak men try to find power in objects like guns or self-righteous mock-hero posing. They have no faith, so they try to find something that will give them power. The truly strong walk through the valley of the shadow with no fear. They have true faith. Where they stand is solid, so they don’t need a bang bang toy to feel strong. They ARE strong.

  • disqus_6m12TWJxtc

    All three accounts are suspicious, the assailants, the victims and the police cannot get their stories straight, i lost interest the moment this turned into a soap opera-esque show

  • Second Class Citizen

    Mr. Bellamy’s group teaches boxing to help build “confidence and self discipline”? Does anyone else see the irony in that “noble cause”? I like boxing as much as the next guy, but I can think of other less violent approaches that would achieve the same goal.
    And it has been my experience that these so-called “dialogue on race” committees that pop up from time to time are a useless waste of time because the people who sit on these committees have no control over what happens on the streets. They always reach the same conclusions: whites are racists and all other colors are victims.

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