Police seek suspect in brutal hate crime

Posted on 08 Mar 2013 at 9:00am

Lesbian recovering after suffering badly dislocated jaw when she was attacked for trying to defend her 4-year-old from bullying in Mesquite

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ON THE MEND  | Sondra Scarber’s jaw was knocked an inch-and-a-half out of alignment when the suspect kicked her in the head and stomped her face as she lay on the ground. (Courtesy of WFAA-TV)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

MESQUITE — A lesbian from Seagoville was recovering this week after suffering a dislocated jaw when she was brutally attacked in an apparent anti-gay hate crime at a Mesquite playground.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Mesquite Police Department disputed initial media reports about the attack that suggested authorities were discounting anti-gay bias as a possible motive. The spokesman said police are still looking for a suspect but haven’t ruled out a hate crime.

The suspect yelled gay epithets while he beat Sondra Scarber after she tried to defend her 4-year-old son from bullying at the hands of the suspect’s children. After knocking Scarber to the ground, the suspect kicked her in the mouth and stomped her face. She would later need surgery on her jaw, which had been knocked an inch-and-a-half out of alignment.

Scarber said this week she’s on a room-temperature liquid diet. Both hot and cold hurts the metal in her mouth. She’s tried some solid food, but even mashed potatoes are hard for her to swallow. Scarber said rubber bands in her mouth would be off in two weeks, metal would come out in three weeks and then she would begin physical therapy that could last up to two years.

“There’s no feeling in the lower jaw,” Scarber said.

The assault happened Feb. 17 at the Seabourn Elementary School playground, where Scarber and her partner Hillary Causey had taken their son to play.

A 10-year-old began pushing their son around so Scarber told the boy to stop. That’s when the boy’s younger sister went to the car to get their father. Causey said she expected the father to tell his son not to pick on a 4-year-old but as he got closer, she could see his anger. At first, he thought Scarber was a man.

When he realized she was woman, he said, “Oh, it’s a bitch. It’s a bitch,” according to Causey. “You’re a woman, but you think you’re a man.”

He called her a dyke and a faggot, holding her up by her necklace and repeatedly hitting her in the face until he knocked her out.

“I’m going to beat you like a man,” he said.

Causey said a woman who was with the suspect tried to stop him but he pushed her away. He dropped Scarber to the ground and kicked her in the mouth, detaching her jaw on the right side. Scarber said as she was trying to regain consciousness, she saw his foot come down on her face.

She said her son was standing there watching.

“Please don’t kill her,” she said he pleaded.

The woman who was with the suspect convinced him not to attack Causey and to leave, but first he took Scarber’s phone, earrings and cap and tried to get her shoes.

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EMOTIONAL SCARS  | Scarber and her partner Hillary Causey, shown at home in Seagoville this week, said their son blames himself for what happened and is undergoing counseling. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

When the suspect and the woman ran to their car, Causey chased him and snatched the phone out of his hand. She got close enough to the car to see a large Ziplock bag of marijuana in the front seat. As they drove off, she called police.

Police arrived at the scene within minutes, and Scarber turned away the ambulance.

Instead, Scarber saw a doctor later and underwent surgery on her mouth Feb. 28. Her bite is not expected to return to where it was before the attack.

Mesquite police spokesman Lt. Bill Hedgpeth said the department is not discounting bias as a possible motive.

“We look at everything and if that’s a motive, that’s a motive,” he said.

He called the level of violence in the case shocking and said Mesquite police have placed a priority on finding the person who assaulted Scarber.

“But the hate crime designation happens on the prosecution side,” he said. “We take all the information and present it to the DA.”

While it’s up to the district attorney’s office whether to prosecute cases as hate crimes, police departments report bias-motivated incidents to the FBI under the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act.

Online records show the Mesquite Police Department hasn’t reported a hate crime to the FBI under the act in more than five years. Meanwhile, neighboring

Garland reported 46 hate crimes to the FBI from 2007 to 2011.

According to the FBI’s hate crime data collection guidelines, the No. 2 criteria for classifying an incident a hate crime is written statements or gestures made by the offender which indicates the offender’s bias.

James Harrison, records supervisor for Mesquite police, said officers can classify incidents as hate crimes on offense reports. Detectives can also determine that offenses are bias-related, Harrison said, but otherwise he wouldn’t have the authority to report them as hate crimes to the FBI.

Resource Center Dallas’ Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said when cities don’t report bias-motivated incidents, it can have a chilling effect on crime victims.

“We know they’re happening against all sorts of categories,” McDonnell said. “They believe they won’t receive fair treatment from the police.”

Hedgpeth said that because of injuries Scarber suffered and because the assailant took her cap, the department plans to pursue a charge of aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony.

Scarber, on the other hand, has several more doctors’ appointments over the next couple of months, a possible second surgery and 18 months to two years of physical therapy and recovery ahead of her. The Victim’s Compensation Fund is helping pay for her medical treatment because she has no health insurance.

Causey described her son as angry since the attack and she’s taking him for counseling at a victim’s outreach program.

“He’s blaming himself for what happened to me,” Scarber said.

Causey said he’s angry he couldn’t protect her.

The suspect is a black male, standing 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighing 185 pounds. He was wearing a royal blue T-shirt and jeans. He was with a woman and four children. He drove away in a silver, early 2000s Chevy Impala with paper temporary tags.

About 50 feet away from where she was attacked, a group of adults were playing basketball. None tried to intervene and when the police arrived, they said they didn’t see anything.

Causey thinks the man’s children go to that school or at least come to play there regularly. When the kids got there, they seemed to know the playground, she said.

Since then, she and several friends have watched the school parking lot during school. She said they spotted several cars fitting the description dropping off children. Last week, when a friend began following a silver Impala, the woman sped off.

But she got a license plate number off the car with new black and white Texas plates, which may have replaced the temporary paper tag.

Hedgpeth said Mesquite police are determined to make an arrest in the case.

“Someone with this propensity for violence is a danger to everyone in the community,” Hedgpeth said. “This bad guy needs to be arrested so we can prosecute and get him off the street.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 8, 2013,

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