Saturday, October 24 was a day of celebration at Richmond High School—every high schooler’s favorite fall event—homecoming. And like every other high school celebrating homecoming, Richmond High hosted a homecoming dance.
At 9:30 p.m., a 15-year old girl decided she was ready to go home, and left the gym and started walking on 23rd Street, on the north side of the campus, intending to call her father to pick her up. Before she took the time to call her father, a friend from school invited her to join a group of students hanging out and drinking in an alley adjacent to the campus.
The girl was offered a drink, which she accepted, and she quickly became incapacitated from slamming brandy. She was then beaten and sexually assaulted by as many as 10 males, robbed of her jewelry, and abandoned semiconscious, naked below the waist, underneath a lunch table on campus.
Richmond is located in Contra Costa County, across the bay from San Francisco, right on the water. Its population of 120,000 is comprised of mostly black or Hispanics, and there is high unemployment and gang activity in the city. Although the 2000 census revealed a racial make-up of 36 percent black, 27 percent Hispanic and 21 percent white, in recent years the population has skewed Hispanic. Seventy-six percent of Richmond High’s students are Hispanic, 75 percent characterized as “socioeconomically disadvantaged,” and 54 percent “English learners.”
While the girl was being raped, word spread about the ongoing assault and what is thought to be two dozen students stopped by to witness the attack, with some young men joining the assault, and others laughing and taking photos of the crime, with none summoning assistance. On campus that night were four on-duty Richmond police officers, along with paid security, and three school administrators. The dance ended at 11 p.m. and the campus was cleared by police, security and one administrator.
The high school does have a surveillance system in place, but it is not operational. Friends of the victim say that a group of young men without ID cards (non-students) were hanging around at the school’s entrance, but police, private security and administrators did nothing to question or remove the men.
Word of the rape was filtering off-campus. Several blocks away, a man was approached by a group of young men who told him there was a naked drunk girl behind the high school and if he wanted to get laid, he’d better get over there. He immediately went looking for someone with a phone to call police. A resident of a nearby home overheard students talking about the incident, and called 9-1-1 around midnight, with police responding to the dark out-of-the-way site.
As police pulled up to the scene, they saw 19-year-old Manuel Ortega, a high school dropout who had attended Richmond High, run away from the area. Ortega was found with some of the girl’s jewelry. He was arrested on suspicion of rape, kidnapping and robbery, and is being held in the Contra Costa County jail on $1.2 million bail.
The girl was airlifted to a nearby hospital, and was discharged on Wednesday. Authorities said she would not be returning to her home to maintain her privacy.
Despite Richmond’s gang and drug problems, rape of a high school student is a shocking event. And Richmond police have gone into overdrive to solve this case.
Fifteen-year old Cody Ray Smith, who knew the victim, was arrested on Monday night (October 26) on suspicion of sexual assault and rape. On Tuesday, 21-year old Salvador Rodriquez was detained, and on Wednesday, October 28, Richmond police announced that charges were being filed against Ortega (rape in concert, rape by force, robbery and assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury), and three others, including Smith, 16-year-old Ari Abdallah Morales and 17-year-old James Marcelles Peter, each of whom face felony counts of rape in concert, otherwise known as gang rape, and penetration with a foreign object. Morales also faces felony robbery charges. Charges against Rodriquez are expected to be filed by the end of the week.
The four suspects were arraigned this morning (October 29) under tight security at Contra Costa County Superior Court in Richmond. The underage suspects, who were arraigned together, were wearing bulletproof vests, hands shackled to their waists, surrounded by five sheriff’s deputies. Only Smith offered a plea of not guilty. Morales appeared separately. All four will return to court on November 5, and the underage suspects will remain in juvenile hall without bail.
Smith, who is white, and Morales, who is Latino, are residents of nearby San Pablo, and Peter, who is black, is a resident of Pinole. Each will be tried as adults, and if convicted, each faces the possibility of life in prison.
More arrests are expected.
Unfortunately the race card is being tossed around already. The family of James Peter was already blaming prosecutors and threatening to sue the city of Richmond for arresting the teen, alleging he was arrested only “because he is black.” They claim he is innocent of everything, and simply walked by the scene of the crime.
The DNA and photographs taken by onlookers will not lie.
The victim is white, described as a churchgoing girl who was struggling to fit in and who felt unsafe on the Richmond High campus, as do most of the white students.
So what charges can be expected for bystanders who failed to report the crime? In California, there is the Sherrice Iverson Child Victim Protection act, which was passed in 1999 following the molestation and murder of 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson in a Nevada casino. She was killed by Long Beach resident Jeremy Strohmeyer, and the legislation was created in response to Strohmeyer’s friend, David Cash, Jr., who witnessed to the assault and murder but failed to report the crime. As a consequence of the law, it is a misdemeanor to fail to report a crime against a child—but it applies to victims 14 years of age or younger.
It is possible that an onlooker could be charged with aiding and abetting if police can show their actions facilitated or goaded the perpetrators.
There is a posted reward of $20,000 for information leading to conviction of anyone involved in this crime.
There is plenty of commentary that can be made on this case. Most importantly is the question “What are we teaching our young men when they participate, witness, laugh at, photograph and fail to report a crime such as this?” Do they not have mothers, sisters, grandmothers, or girlfriends that they would not allow this to happen to? Where are the parents and what do they teach their children at home? Is violence against females commonplace in their homes? When did the United States become so tolerant and callous? Is the problem an “anything goes” attitude? What makes it socially acceptable to do something like this? Is this a consequence of the hip-hop and rap music and culture that many teens of all cultures embrace, degrading women and practicing thuggery? Does raping an unconscious girl give a young man street cred?
And because the victim was white and four of the alleged assailants were Latino or black, is this a hate crime?
Please keep your comments away from racially charged remarks. As evidenced in this case, rapists come in all colors. This isn’t a commentary on one racial group of people taking advantage of a young girl—this is a sad example of poor parenting and societal indifference and a disgusting sign of the times where high school students can find such a horrific crime a source of entertainment.
Richmond High School is accepting cards and donations for the victim and her family. They can be mailed to the school at 1250 23rd St., Richmond, CA 94804-1011. Make checks out to the Richmond High Student Fund, with "for sex assault victim" written in the memo line.
Addendum: A sixth person was arrested in nearby San Pablo on Thursday night. Jose Carlos Montano, age 18, was charged with felony rape, rape in concert with force, and penetration with a foreign object. His bail was set at $1.3 million, and police label him as having played a significant role in the assault.
Suspect Cody Smith was a friend of the victim, and he was the one who invited her to join the group.