Police investigate report of attack

Officer's action reviewed

officials doubt beating was racially motivated

January 09, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

After two days of confusion, Baltimore police are investigating a group attack against a man at a pay telephone near Green Mount Cemetery, and a complaint that an officer refused to take a report from the victim and his pregnant wife after she called 911.

Although police filed a report on the attack yesterday, none of the information or interviews with the couple have shed much light on the Thursday afternoon attack, which police said yesterday was being investigated as a serious assault, but not as a racial crime.

The victim, Jonathon Dempsey, 30, who is white and moved to Baltimore recently from Texas, said from his hospital bed yesterday that his attackers were black, but that he did not know why they attacked him in the 400 block of Pitman Place.

Dempsey is expected to be released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center today. He had been in surgery there for six hours Friday. His wife, Jennifer Christensen, said he was treated for multiple facial fractures, and a broken nose, jaw and eye socket.

The attackers said "nothing at all," Dempsey said. "I have no idea why. I was at the phone booth and someone grabbed me from behind and they hit me."

Police noted the lack of slurs or threats in saying yesterday that the incident was probably not a hate crime. No suspects have been identified, according to police.

"Right now it is not being investigated as a hate crime or racial incident, but it is being investigated as a serious aggravated assault," said Sgt. Scott Rowe, a police spokesman.

Police took almost two days to make that determination because a report was not filed until yesterday. According to Rowe and the police report, an officer who responded to a 911 call about the attack on Thursday was unable to find the victim.

But Christensen, who said she had made the 911 call, and Dempsey said yesterday that before an ambulance took him to Mercy Medical Center, they spoke to a black male officer who refused to take a report.

The incident has become a topic of discussion on area radio talk shows after a caller to WBAL-AM complained about police allegedly refusing to take a report on the assault. Since then, police have talked to Dempsey and Christensen.

"The matter is being investigated from an internal-investigation standpoint regarding the officer's action during the taking of the initial report, and we are aggressively investigating the crime," acting police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel said last night.

An emergency room technician at Mercy told The Sun Friday night that he had asked Dempsey whether the attack was reported to the police, and was told that an officer had talked to him but did not take a report.

While hospitals routinely notify the police of serious assault injuries, the technician said it was not done in Dempsey's case because the emergency room staff became busy and the patient was transferred to Shock Trauma before the matter could be addressed.

Christensen said an Eastern District sergeant and officer visited her Friday night at the Parkville home where she is temporarily living to get her account. Others from the Police Department called and talked to her yesterday morning, she said, and they "had no clue" about the sergeant and officer going to see her.

Christensen, who is eight months pregnant, said she and her husband had gone to Union Memorial Hospital about noon on Thursday for her medical needs, then walked to the Department of Social Services building in the 1500 block of Guilford Ave.

She said they tried to make a phone call from a friend's home in the 400 block of Pitman, where they had briefly stayed after moving to Baltimore last month and which is near the Social Services offices.

But because of a misunderstanding, the friend would not let them use the phone, prompting Dempsey to walk to the pay phone where he was attacked half a block away, Christensen said.

Christensen, who was on the friend's porch when the attack occurred, said she walked with Dempsey to the corner of Greenmount and North avenues, where she called 911.

Christensen said she has little doubt that race was the reason for the attack.

"Considering Johnny was the only white person there and they just pulled him off the phone and beat him -- obviously, even if they did not speak, they were saying something," she said.

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