Photo by PoPville flickr user rosiedawn
At about 5:45 PM on Friday night (June 21), my wife and I were walking down 14th street toward the metro and were approaching Park Road. We were just at about the front door of Z Burger on 14th street when we both noticed a suspicious male staring at us as we we were walking. He was maybe 3 feet from the Z Burger entrance where we were closer to Wells Fargo entrance but much closer to the right side of the sidewalk, close to the street.
We both didn’t know we sensed something strange about this guy until my wife and I talked after the incident once we were safe. Basically, “Yeah I noticed him too when we were walking but didn’t think that was going to happen.”
As we were approaching him, I started to move my wife and I closer and closer to the right hand side of the sidewalk as I saw the man keep staring at us and walking slowly towards us. Again, something seemed strange and my instincts kicked in.
I would say there were probably easily 100 people crowded on the sidewalk in every direction as this was as a very busy time on Friday night as the “square” in front of the Pollo Campero and the yogurt shop was packed and people walking “with” us and past us on 14th as usual.
As we got closer to the Z Burger, he came sprinting at us with what I can only describe as a 1000 yard stare in his eyes – as if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It was very scary. I yelled at my wife to run, and I shielded her from him as we moved away. He came charging at me, and I put my hands out instinctually and yelled as loud as I could at him. My hope was I could startle him as well and prepare to physically defend myself if he kept charging.
The only thing that saved us was there was another guy who was with this suspect who held him back and asked him “Hey man, what are you doing, stop.” My wife began sprinting toward the Giant and I began backpedaling backwards to make sure he was not still coming at my wife and me. His “friend” was still holding him.
At closest contact, he was maybe a few inches away from me and my hands shoved outwards toward him.
We continued to run to the Giant because there is often a police officer posted inside the door.
Sure enough, there was.
We told the officer to hurry with us to try and find the guy – of course, he slowly walked outside of the Giant with us so I took off running myself back to the Z Burger to see if I could spot the guy since the officer had about as much interest in helping find him as a person walking to go to the dentist for a root canal. (I apologize for my snarkiness but this leads to more of an issue later on with the police.)
Unfortunately, the guy was gone as was his “friend”.
I returned to my wife and the officer and we began telling the officer what happened. The office even joked to my wife “Where is your husband going?” I told the officer when I returned I was trying to see if the guy was hiding nearby. It just felt so surreal as the officer seemed so disinterested in what happened even before we told him despite our urgency and sense of panic.
The officer was kind enough to tell us that filing a report would be pointless since there was no assault to which I countered and said “This was a clear case of physical intimidation with a threat of assault.” He smirked. He then said if I would have “knocked the guy out” – the police would know the difference between a good guy like myself and a bad homeless man so next time just defend yourself. I was sorta baffled/surprised by his comments but wasn’t about to question his advice at this point and escalate things with him.
He did say, since we lived a few blocks away, that if I saw the guy again to call 911 and report it so they could “question him, run his name to see if he has any warrants out for his arrest”. I said I would.
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon. I went to go get lunch when sure enough I saw the man who tried to attack us. He was loitering by Sticky Fingers and the farmers market – walking back and forth between the 2 locations on the sidewalk near the plant boxes in front of the citibank on Park.
I went into the Giant to see if that officer was there; he was not. The manager of the store said “we have some undercover Giant employees here but no officer this afternoon.”
I called 911 and reported the individual. I said I would wait to help identify him to the officers.
5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Nothing. I continued to watch the man go up to at least 10 women and try to intimidate them. He would often stop in front of them on the sidewalk and not move – just staring at them – and force them to walk into the street to avoid him. He would then start walking behind them, staring at them. This was much less aggressive behavior than what we witnessed the night before but nonetheless it seemed to fit his behavior of trying to intimidate women.
I then watched him try and get into a car after asking the driver for money – he tried to open the door but the car sped off and luckily the door was locked. I also saw him urinate in the alley between Sticky Fingers and the Dry Cleaners on Park Road. If you’re asking yourself, “Man, this guy sure watched this suspect a lot.” Well that was because I expected the police to show up any minute. They never did.
I called back to 911 3 times to give the dispatcher an update on the man’s location as he kept walking up and down Park Road between 13th and 14th street. I was told several times by the dispatcher – “The next available unit is on its way.”
I also saw him take some fruit from a vendor at the farmers market.
2 more thing happened during the 45 minutes of me waiting for the police who never showed up.
1) I found 2 officers in a marked police van sitting idling in front of the chipotle. I went over, asked them if they were on-duty and asked them if they heard the dispatch about the man I called in about 30 minutes ago.
They shrugged their shoulders and said “we’re on duty but didn’t hear any call – what’s going on?” I explained what happened and they asked me “Did you file a report?” I said I was told by the officer last night not to file a report but to call it in if I saw the guy again. He said “Well, you’re not going to like to hear what I’m going to tell you but you should have filed a report – we’re not going to do anything now.” I told him, what does that have to do with me calling into 911 now and not seeing any officer respond for the last 30 minutes?” He laughed at me. The other office never even looked at me or said anything. He just stared out the window straight ahead.
I then looked at both of them and said “You both have been a great help to me today. What are your names.” I wrote down their names and walked away disgusted. They then started the van and started to trail me. He began to call out “Hey you – what’s your name.” I turned around and said “If you’re going to respond to my 911 call, then go ahead. Otherwise I have nothing else to say to you. But, my name is “Name” and all my info is on my 911 call if you want it.” It was really sad this was all happening.
2) I also walked over to the vendor whose fruit I thought he was stealing and eating. She told me the following:
-The guy is always around and he demands money from her which she refuses
-She often lets him take the fruit because she’s scared of him
-He touched her son’s stomach several times in a playful manner but said it was very strange (Her son was probably 12-13 years old and told me about the stomach incident and said “The guy with the bandana and hat” to confirm that we were all talking about the same guy which I never pointed him out to them.
-She’s intimidated by his behavior but there are no police around so she tries to appease him
-She’d rather not make the man upset because she feels like she has no protection
I returned home and called the District 3 and District 4 Police Office to try and get more info on how to file a report and a complaint against the 2 officers if in fact this was not proper behavior. A good 45-60 minutes had passed and I watched this guy the whole time – no office ever showed up.
So I guess my story boils down to 2 things:
1) The original suspect that tried to attacked my wife and I is going to do this again. I fear for what could happen. If I were not with my wife on Friday or if his “friend” didn’t step in to restrain this guy, my wife would have been attacked. After watching him from afar on Saturday, this is a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. I’ve actually seen him before around the neighborhood once I saw him again on Saturday – it jogged my memory.
-6’2″, Maybe late 30s, early 40s in age
-About 140-150 lbs
-Fairly skinny but muscular
-Brown skinned; the vendor said he’s “Puerto Rican”
-Has a scraggly, short black beard
-Was wearing a black bandana and white tank top undershirt with several stains on it
2) The lack of concern and lack of professionalism on behalf of the police officers I encountered.
Of course I understand they are busy so I’ll excuse maybe the lack of response from my 911 call.
But the first officer on Friday provided awful advice and had little concern about what happened.
The 2 other officers on Saturday were not doing anything while just sitting in front of the Chipotle. With me alerting them to something, 2 blocks away, I would think that was in their jurisdiction to at least investigate. Instead, I felt like I was the the one they were more interested in “talking” to.
I’ve been in DC for 13 years. I’m not oblivious to the obvious things that plague this city and also come along with living in a neighborhood like Columbia Heights. Was this an urgent, serious issue on Saturday – I guess not. But I followed the advice of the officer from Friday and expected action to be taken when I called. Was this a serious, urgent issue on Friday? Absolutely. It was one of the most frightening things I’ve experienced in DC since I’ve lived here and honestly felt sick to my stomach that we didn’t catch him on Friday because I feared something terrible would happen to someone else that night.
But overall this was a pathetic display from our police department and overall it was very hard to stomach as a resident of the district. I love this neighborhood and feel only the citizens’ concern and diligence will help it improve. If this post helps people stay more aware of their surroundings and if they see this specific guy, cross the street and avoid him at all costs – then I’ll feel better.
I spoke with Josh Levine before I headed up on Saturday after the whole debacle (http://www.columbiaheightscommunitymarketplace.org/about/board) and he also expressed concern that the police presence they used to have at the market when setting up in the morning and during the market hours has become non-existent. He told the vendor that if she saw him next Saturday to let him know. It was refreshing to hear fellow residents concerned for other residents especially vendors trying to make our neighborhood better!
Thanks for reading and stay safe.”