Crime watch leaders, business owners frustrated over PD’s delay in notifying them of hate crime
Crime watch leaders and business owners expressed frustration this week that it took Dallas police almost three full days to notify them about a brutal hate crime that occurred just a few blocks from the Cedar Springs strip.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the attack, LGBT activists said they were recruiting people to sign up for the police department’s Volunteers in Patrol program, in hopes of "taking back" notoriously dangerous side streets in the gay entertainment district.
As of Wednesday, May 19, police hadn’t made any arrests in the aggravated robbery that occurred at about midnight last Friday on Throckmorton Street near Congress Avenue, approximately two blocks southwest of the Crossroads.
The two victims — Kyle Wear and Alex Bowers, both 28 — were walking from a house party toward the bars on Cedar Springs when they were jumped by four Latino males in white tank tops wielding baseball bats.
According to a police report, one of the assailants struck Wear in the face with a bat and yelled, "Give me all of your fucking money you fucking fag."
Wear was briefly knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw, and the suspects fled on foot with the victims’ wallets and cell phones.
"I thought they were going to kill us," said Bowers, who was unharmed.
Wear said he doesn’t remember much about the incident, but Bowers is convinced the pair was targeted because of their sexual orientation.
"I think they wanted something, but I also think they seemed to be enjoying it," he said.
Hate crime classification
Despite the suspects’ use of a gay slur, Dallas police initially failed to classify the incident as a hate crime, prompting outrage from some in the LGBT community.
According to FBI guidelines, offenses are to be classified as hate crimes if they were motivated "in whole or in part" by sexual-orientation bias. Among the primary indicators that a crime was motivated by bias are "oral comments" made by suspects, the FBI guidelines state.
By late Monday morning, May 17, after consulting with LGBT Liaison Officer Laura Martin, police officials reclassified the offense as an anti-gay hate crime.
"I think some patrol officers are probably under the impression that they can’t really designate things as hate crimes," Martin said later. "That doesn’t mean that we can’t go through and change things. It’s just a matter of who actually does change it, so it’s being done."
Martin said classifying the incident as a hate crime would give the investigation higher priority.
"If someone’s targeted because of who they are and they’re in a protected class, there is more attention that needs to be paid," Martin said. "We don’t want people coming down in the Cedar Springs area and thinking they can just beat up and rob members of the GLBT community because it just seems like a fun thing to do. We don’t want people thinking that’s OK to do, so I can assure you that it will be investigated and given plenty of attention."
While DPD will report the incident to the FBI as a hate crime, it’s unlikely it will be prosecuted as a hate crime if the suspects are captured.
That’s because Texas’ hate crimes statute provides no enhanced penalty if the offense is already a first-degree felony, such as aggravated robbery.
Randall Terrell, political director at Equality Texas, said it’s one reason why the gay-rights group has been calling for a review of the statute, which has been rarely used by prosecutors in the 10 years since it passed.
Nancy Weinberger, a longtime local crime watch leader, said she didn’t learn of the incident until she received a message from a reporter at WFAA-TV on Saturday evening.
Weinberger also noted that neither the Dallas Tavern Guild nor the Cedar Springs Merchants Association was notified by police.
DPD didn’t post the crime on its Nixle public e-mail notification system until 3:16 p.m. Monday.
"There is absolutely no excuse in the whole world for me not to know that something like that happened," Weinberger said Wednesday during a monthly crime watch meeting at the Oak Lawn library.
"It’s not DPD’s fault that this happened to these guys. The fault lies in communication."
Howard Okon, owner of the Brick, said if bar owners had learned about the crime sooner they could have alerted customers and security —possibly leading to the apprehension of the suspects.
"You all are missing your greatest asset, which is us," Okon told police officials who attended Wednesday’s meeting. "We want to know a lot quicker."
DPD Lt. Daniel Gallegos acknowledged that there had been a communication breakdown within the department.
Gallegos said it would be impossible for DPD to notify the community immediately about offenses, because officers must first complete initial investigations. He also said DPD can’t release some details because it could jeopardize investigations.
But Gallegos said the department should have notified Weinberger and others by Saturday or Sunday at the latest.
"That should not happen again," Gallegos said.
Gallegos also said the department immediately upped patrols in the area, and detectives canvassed the neighborhood on Tuesday.
He said the additional patrols would likely continue, especially on weekends.
"I don’t want the community to feel that this happened and we did nothing about it," Gallegos said. "We will leave no rock unturned."
‘Somebody’s going to end up dead’
The incident was the first serious anti-gay hate crime in Oak Lawn since the July 2008 beating of Jimmy Lee Dean.
But the area surrounding the gay entertainment district remains dangerous for violent crime, according to Dallas police statistics.
DPD’s Cedar Springs Wycliff Target Area Action Grid — a 1-square-mile quadrant that encompasses the strip —recorded the fourth-most violent offenses of 26 crime hotspots citywide in 2009.
Michael Robinson, who launched a hate crimes advocacy group after witnessing Dean’s attack two years ago, said it’s time for the community to address the problem.
"We’ve got to take back our damn streets," Robinson said. "Somebody’s going to end up dead, and then everybody will want to jump up and down."
Robinson said he was hoping to recruit at least 10 people to go through training for DPD’s Volunteers in Patrol program.
"We need eyes on the street," he said. "We need bodies in this community to protect us."
As for the victims, Wear said he blames himself for not being more aware of his surroundings. He said he was looking down, sending a text message on his cell phone when he was suddenly struck with the bat.
Bowers, meanwhile, said he plans to get some pepper spray and possibly take a self-defense course.
As they looked at bloodstains on the sidewalk during a visit to the scene on Tuesday, the pair said they didn’t plan to walk to the strip from their friend’s house on Throckmorton again.
Asked what the community’s response should be to the incident, Bowers said, "I don’t think it’s something that should just be forgotten about."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 21, 2010.