BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Five days after a family was attacked for being in the "wrong neighborhood," Baton Rouge Interim Police Chief Carl Dabadie issued statement saying officers made a mistake and an error of judgment.
The family stopped at a gas station on Plank Road in Baton Rouge and the man, his wife and his daughter were all brutally attacked. The family is white and the three suspects are black. Only one of the suspects was actually brought to jail. That led to outrage by many who heard about the case.
The statement from Interim Chief Carl Dabadie says:
Over the past several days our department has been the target of some criticism and frustration by people who questioned our handling of a brutal attack on a family in our city last weekend. I take those concerns seriously, and wanted to be certain that the decisions made by our officers and investigators in this case were the correct ones. The detectives have worked diligently and tirelessly at reviewing this case in an attempt to make sure it's handled without prejudice.
So at my direction our detectives have extensively re-interviewed the victims and several witnesses and reviewed all available evidence. We have worked closely with the District Attorney's Office so that the prosecutors who will ultimately have to take these cases to court had the opportunity to evaluate all of the evidence as well, and offer us their guidance.
We also reached out to our federal partners at the FBI to see if federal hate crime charges might be applicable in this case. FBI agents have accompanied our detectives and actively participated in interviews of the victims and witnesses. I will leave it to them to decide when or whether to publicly release further information on their part of the investigation.
I do regret that two of the suspects were issued misdemeanor summonses at the scene instead of being booked. That was a mistake and an error of judgment. We have counseled the officers involved and I have re-emphasized to all my commanders that I expect offenders who commit misdemeanor crimes of violence will be booked into the prison, not summonsed.
Again, this was a brutal attack on an innocent family and I want to commend our officers who quickly responded to the scene and were able to identify, locate and arrest the suspects. I also want to thank the many witnesses that night who put themselves at risk by physically attempting to intervene, and who have since cooperated fully by telling us what they saw.
Our active investigation has concluded for now, although if any new evidence or information comes to light we will of course investigate further and the charges could still be amended later if there is justification to do so. In the meantime we will forward all our reports to the District Attorney's Office and work closely with them to make sure the suspects are prosecuted to the fullest possible extent of the law. We will make no further public statements regarding the details of this case or the evidence until it goes to court."
Officials say a man wearing a pink shirt was in line trying to pay for gas when Donald Dickerson, 41, started making fun of him, leading to an argument.
"The defendant (Dickerson) approached the white male victim," the police report stated.
It went on to read, "the defendant told him he was in the wrong neighborhood and he was not going to make it out." The victim said that's when he "was punched and knocked to the ground."
At this time, his wife got out of the car and ran to help her husband. The victim said, "he continued to struggle with the defendant and was eventually knocked unconscious, which later he awoke in the hospital."
His wife told police, "After running to help her husband, she remembers falling to the ground and (being) knocked unconscious."
According to a close family friend, that's when the couple's teenage daughter got out of the car to check on her parents and, "observed a female punch her mother in the face, when her mother then fell to the concrete, hitting her head on the surface."
The daughter was also punched in the face.
"There were only three suspects but there were multiple people in the parking lot," said Cpl. Tommy Stubbs.
Of those three, Dickerson was arrested and charged with second-degree battery. The other two suspects, Devin Bessye, 24, and Ashley Simmons, 22, were released on site after police wrote them each a summons for simple battery.
When police were questioned about why all three defendants were not charged with felony second degree battery, Stubbs responded, "Because you have to have disfigurement for a second-degree battery charge, and only one victim had disfigurement and he was attacked by the one suspect that we booked."
However, Louisiana law defines second-degree battery as "bodily injury which involves unconsciousness, extreme physical pain or protracted and obvious disfigurement."
The victim suffered "a broken eye socket, broken nose, and several lacerations to the face," and his wife was knocked unconscious.
As to why officers only charged one suspect with second-degree battery, police said under former Police Chief Dewayne White, officers were told to take all offenders to prison. Towards the end of his term, the policy changed and officers were told to use discretion. That's the policy in place now.
As to whether this falls under a hate crime, police said early reports show it does not meet the statute but remains under investigation.
All three defendants, Dickerson, Bessye and Simmons, have had run-ins with the law prior to Sunday's incident.
The FBI is still investigating to see if this case will be classified as a hate crime.