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Temecula women victims of hate crime outside a Denny's restaurant

by Mary Shelton Friday, May. 03, 2002 at 6:33 AM

Two Black women in Temecula were assaulted by skinheads in front of Denny's restaurant, but was it a hate crime? The answer depends on which branch of the Riverside Sheriff's Department responds.

TEMECULA -- Two African-American women were attacked by a group of racists in the parking lot of a Denny's restaurant in Temecula last Sunday morning.

Devonia Jordan, a student and president of the Black Student Union at Mount San Jacinto College, said that she and her friend decided to stop at the restaurant for some coffee and a bite to eat just after midnight, when their car was approached by a white man who said Heil Hitler, called them n*****s and told them to go back to Africa, while slamming his elbow into the side of the vehicle.

Other white men joined him and the group surrounded the car and started rocking it with the two women still inside.

"We were unable to drive forward, backwards to get away," Jordan said. She decided to run into the restaurant to call for help, even though she was afraid the men would hit her. As she left the car, a man ripped the shirt off of her back.

Inside the restaurant, she saw "cowboy hats everywhere I looked" and asked a man named Joe to help her, but he did not. An officer from the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended one man, she said, but he escaped into a red car. Another man picked up a brick from a nearby construction site and began chasing her with it, "running me out of my shoes," Jordan said. The guy dropped the brick, picked up her shoe, and began hitting her on her back with it. "Now n***** you know how it feels to get beat," the man said as he chased her.

According to Jordan even though she ran as fast as she could, the man kept up with her, and "each hit connected to my back," she said. The two women had called 911 three times, but no police had arrived. Five other phone calls were received by dispatchers about the incident, and three officers from the Temecula Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department were dispatched to the scene.

However, when the two women tried to tell them what happened, the officers told them to sit down on the curb and shut up, Jordan said.

"We were not the ones causing the problems, " she said, "We were the victims, not the victimizers."

Jordan said that she felt officer T. Montgomery(#2739) wanted her to tell him what he wanted to hear, rather than what had happened. Montgomery and Sheriff Deputy Eduendo Steger(#1931) did take a report but arrested none of the men involved in the incident, though they took a report from the man who had hit Jordan with the shoe.

An unnamed female officer led Jordan into the Denny's bathroom to examine and photograph the bruises on her back, and customers inside the restaurant flipped her off as they walked by. Jordan said that this officer told her how sorry she was about what had happened, and related an experience involving a Black friend of hers dealing with racism.

Jordan, who had moved to Temecula a month earlier, said that when she told a friend, who lived in nearby Murrieta, what happened, her friend told her, "you don't go across the Rancho California bridge near the freeway after dark," if you are Black. Jordan said that if she had known what the situation in Temecula was, she and her children would never have moved there, and that she would have been willing to drive 20-30 miles to her job to avoid this type of treatment. And she worried about her children who attended the local high school where there was a white supremacist group called the Aryan Brothers, she said.

The involved law enforcement agencies offered conflicting information regarding how the incident will be handled by them. Riverside County Sheriff's Department spokesperson,

Sgt. Shelly Kennedy-Smith said that the incident is under investigation by detectives as a hate crime and they will conduct follow-up interviews with the two women, and a male subject. She said that the two women and the man interviewed by the officers offered "very conflicting stories," which necessitates conducting follow-up interviews before the case will be forwarded to the district attorney's office.

"We don't have any more than the victims' statements to go on that an alteration took place," she said. She added that the man interviewed by police said he had left a nearby Circle K store and was verbally attacked by the women. Jordan said that this man was the person who had chased her, and that he had remained at the scene, even after many of the other men had left.

Sgt. Chuck Woody, from the Temecula Police Department, which contracts its services from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department had a different spin on the situation. He confirmed that his department had dispatched officers to the scene of a "physical altercation" where racial slurs were used and had investigated it as a potential "hate crime." He said that the case has already been forwarded to the District Attorney's office which will determine whether or not it fits the criteria for a hate crime. However, he said that he believed that it would not.

"Race wasn't the motivation there," he said, admitting that he had not read any of the reports relating to the incident.

A representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's office in Los Angeles, said that the information was not available, and they were unsure whether or not the Riverside office had reported it.

The report of the hate crime reached across the country to Denny's headquarters in South Carolina.

Debbie Atkins, the senior representative of Public Relations for the company confirmed that they had received a report on the incident from the manager of that Denny's restaurant and that he had contacted the police when it occurred.

"When a situation occurs, the management contacts local authorities," she said, but added that it would be necessary for the customer to contact the Denny's headquarters in order for an investigation to be conducted by the company.

For years, Temecula has experienced problems with racism and hate crimes, including an incident several years ago, when a group of skinheads attacked an African-American man, Randy Wordell Bowen who was attending a party. When he had tried to get away from his attackers, two of the men hit him on the head with a bottle, and slashed his back with a knife or straight razor before chasing him to a resident's house where Bowen received assistance. The two men were convicted at trial and given lengthy prison sentences. Four others pled guilty and were sentenced to four years in prison. A civil lawsuit, filed by attorney Andrew Roth is pending against the involved parties including the Western Hammerskin Nation, the white-supremacist group that is considered to be the most dangerous in California.

(c) 2002

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