Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo has not had a pleasant couple of weeks. During a coffee shop interview on January 2, Longo took time to discuss the fall-out from an allegedly vicious, unprovoked attack on a white couple by three black males that occurred on the Downtown Mall early Thursday morning on December 20. A story on the attack that ran in Cville Weekly, which relied on the testimony of the victims, quickly went viral, prompting hundreds of comments, many of them so hostile and racist that the paper made the decision to shut down the comment section. Across the Internet, the story has been characterized as a vicious, racially charged “knock-out game” style attack, done for sport and entertainment on unsuspecting White victims. What’s more, the Cville Weekly story highlighted the victims opinion that the police had been slow to respond, and “didn’t seem to care” about seeking justice.
Needless to say, the barrage of emails and phone calls that Longo has received have not been kind. One man told him that his family was canceling their yearly trip to Charlottesville because of the dangers, and because of the “gross incompetence” of Longo’s police force. Others, of course, were not so polite.
Ironically, its Longo who has for some time been lobbying for more police officers and beefed up security on the Downtown Mall, to no avail. One positive of the media firestorm, he hopes, might be a new willingness on the part of City government to reconsider his proposals. But, other than that, there are few positives for Longo about the story that has swept the nation before the police investigation has been completed.
What’s more, 18 months ago Longo implemented a new system for patrolling the Mall, in which it was treated as a specific “section/district” under a single command. Since then, the Mall has enjoyed a 38 percent drop in reported incidents. Indeed, in all of 2013 there were 9 aggravated assaults like the one alleged to have happened on December 20.
“The City has created this economic engine [the Downtown Mall] that has created a much larger potential victim pool,” says Longo, “and so you’ve got to give us the tools to protect people. And it’s going to mean more officers. It’s as simple as that.”
While Longo says he is determined to find the men who attacked the couple, he has questions about what really happened that night. There appears to be no question that the victims, 39-year old Marc Adams and his girlfriend, Jeanne Doucette, were attacked, but was this really an unprovoked, vicious “knock out game” style attack, or simply a late-night fight fueled by alcohol and an exchange of words?
“What really concerns me, is all the information that is out there that may not be accurate,” says Longo. “What has been posted thus far has damaged the reputation of our community, and has called into question the integrity and competency of good police officers, and has created an unfair perception as to the safety of our downtown. To characterize this incident as a “knock out” absent further investigation and corroboration is most unfortunate. Nonetheless, I will reserve judgement until our investigation is complete.”
For instance, questions still remain about why Adams fled the scene and refused to accept medical attention or file a detailed report with officers on the scene (he told Cville Weekly that his “brain was messed up.”), which may have helped the case move along faster. Also, why would so-called “knock out game” attackers choose the Mall’s most well-lit, heavily trafficked area for the attack? (Indeed, one of the photos that Doucette took during the alleged attack–and later posted on Facebook–shows the Blue Light Grill in the background with the lights on and people out front) Why would they allow Doucette to take photos? Why didn’t they take her phone? And, if it were a planned “knock out game” why were the attackers not filming the attack? Also, how intoxicated were the parties involved in the incident? Indeed, Adams was spotted by a reporter walking briskly past Miller’s after the attack, his face bloodied, wobbling as if intoxicated, and trying to get away from Doucette and the Midnight patrol officer who responded to the scene, who were following close behind him and pleading for him to stop. According to Adams, he suffered a fractured ankle, broken ribs, a black eye, a “smashed” nose, and the loss of a tooth. Doucette has said that she was struck in the head and neck, and that her ear was torn.
“Those are some of the same questions I have,” says Longo.
Adams and Doucette told the Cville Weekly that they didn’t say or do anything to provoke the attack, but the DTM has learned from two separate sources, who wished to remain anonymous, that the attackers may have been gay African-American men, and that Doucette told several people that Adams “said something to the men that provoked them” after they laughed at him when he tripped and fell on the Mall. Charlottesville police detectives are currently questioning these individuals to determine the veracity of the claims. The DTM asked Adams via a Facebook message, through which he had previously communicated with the DTM, if he had indeed said something to his attackers that might have provoked them, but he did not respond by the time this was posted.
While Longo admits that the case should have been immediately assigned to investigators following Adam’s initial call to police on December 21, at no time was the case dropped, as Doucette has alleged. As Longo explains, when a case has a “suspended” status it simply means that there is not enough information available to move forward, and he says the mid-night patrol officer that responded that night contacted Doucette to explain that, and to reassure her that they were pursuing the case.
Since Adams waited a day before contacting police, and spoke to a day officer not connected with the case, and Doucette waited until December 29 to provide additional details, the case did not get processed as quickly as it could have. Had Adams and Doucette cooperated more fully with police at the scene, things might have gone differently, Longo believes.
Instead, the couple turned to Facebook. While Doucette complains in a December 29 Facebook post that “..it has come to this. Social Media. Sigh,” before recapping the incident and posting photos of the alleged attackers, the story actually broke on Facebook when Adams posted an account of what happened on December 20, the day before calling police. Cville Weekly reported Adams saying that “the head injury erased his memory of the attack,” but he describes it in some detail in his December 20 Facebook post, and in comments beneath it, characterizing it as a “Clockwork Orange” style attack.
Clearly, Longo –while admitting that a procedural breakdown caused the case not to be assigned to investigators immediately following Adams call to police –is not yet ready to characterize this as a senseless “knock-out game” style attack on the Downtown Mall.
“We need to finish our investigation,” he says, “then the whole story will finally come out.”
Stay tuned to the DTM for updates on the case.