Thursday, October 29, 2009

Where is the Humanity?

The scene of the crime at Richmond High School

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.

Sixth suspect arrested in connection to Richmond gang rape

Bulletproof vests for rape suspects in court

5 now in custody in Richmond High gang rape

Teen gang-raped after school homecoming in Richmond

Boys in Richmond rape case charged as adults

Friend of gang rape victim blasts school officials over safety

Richmond rape case points to cultural lack of respect for women

Complete coverage of Richmond gang rape case


Anonymous said...


Watch this video from CNN before it gets removed.

Nora said...

This is a crime more about certain attitudes towards women than anything else. (Racially motivated? Perhaps - but I don't know.)There still exists an attitude in our country that says a woman's life is not valuable, and that she is a sex object to be used. If you doubt this is true, watch some music videos, crime movies, slasher films, and Madison Ave. (fashion and make-up industries). That nobody did anything to help her is beyond belief to me. I would be the first to call 911 and try to stop the rape.

What has happened that makes people apathetic or fearful to step up to protect a person being attacked? The fear of being involved? Of repurcussions? The selfishness of those fears to be more important than saving a life is disgusting. But, it's a repeated pattern throughout history. Countless people denied the Holocaust and refused to believe it was happening, or to stop it. What about abuses in many other nations today? It is permitted because not enough people say STOP, it's unacceptable, it's inhumane. We need to wake people up and remind them of consciousness and conscience, and responsibility. One day, the people who did nothing to help her could be in her place - and who would help?
"In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."
---- attributed to Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)
(from Bartlett's 16th Edition, Justin Kaplan, General Editor, page 684,

Anonymous said...

I don't know why the poor girl was raped, it is very shocking. I hope that it can be worked out soon. I have been through Richmond to visit friends in the hills above, a very nice area, and had no idea that it was this bad these days. Thanks for good reporting and let's hope that something can be done to make a situation like this not happen again.

ritanita said...

I've seen reports of this horrible crime and it is unfathomable the inhumanity involved. There are so many issues that arise from this.

As a retired teacher who chaperoned more dances than I can remember, the issue of seurity bothers me terribly.

I cannot recall a dance where I was chaperoning where there wasn't a security plan in place. Mind you, we had no security cameras then and it was up to those adults in attendance, along with policemen assigned to protect the students.

In the reports, I heard that there was a group of young men congregating on school property and that it was reported. Apparantly, they were not told to leave the property. That was mistake #1 because there was no reason for outsiders to be anywhere on the campus, other than to possibly cause some kind of trouble.

Once removed from school property, it was the duty of security to constantly patrol the entire campus to be sure nobody returned.

The mere presence of these outsiders was the biggest red flag those in charge had.

Second, I don't know why the young lady was allowed to leave the school alone prior to the end of the dance.

While it is most likely that she planned to call her father to pick her up, I can't help but wonder if, since she knew one of the young men, she planned to join them and drink with them.

Believe me, I am not casting aspersions on the young lady, but that is a possibility.

One thing any school I worked in would ever allow was for a lone student, without a way home, to leave the premesis. I've been in that situation and we had a remedy for that to ensure the student's safety.

If she had come to the door she would have been asked why she was leaving. If she had said she was going home, we would then have asked how she was getting home. If she said she was going to call her father to take her home, we would have insisted she call from inside the school and waited with her at the door until her father came to get her in person.

Mind you, I never worked in a "tough" school. But we had our problems with outsiders hanging around, wanting to start trouble of some kind and kids who wanted to go off on their own. But we were concerned for our students' safety and always erred on the side of caution.

CaliGirl9 said...

ritanita, I think there were so many errors made that night—the girl being allowed to leave (watch the CNN video of her friends, who did not see her leave but who went to look for her), police and security not keeping non-students away, police and security not patrolling the campus. And you could well be right about the planned drinking, as media accounts have said she knew the 15-year old who called her over.

I sure can remember being 15 and trying to fit in, and letting my guard down to try to be part of the crowd. I can also remember anyone who did not have approval from the school office to be on campus being allowed to hang out, even recent grads. They were asked to leave, chased off, or arrested. Period.

In one article, it was mentioned her father knew she was overdue coming home, and tried to call her on her cell phone, yet received no answer. I don't even want to imagine what is going through his head now.

Last December, a 28-year old woman was gang raped in Richmond. The "Richmond Jane Doe," who happened to be a lesbian, has left the city. Earlier this year there was talk that the four accused males would also be charged with a hate crime, but I don't know if that was pursued.

Bad people come in all shapes and sizes, in all colors and all socioeconomic backgrounds. I was never one to buy into the "video games and music that has violent undertones and degrades women are the root of all evil," but maybe they do make it easier for young men to break with reality and buy into the violence, figuring there is a reset button somewhere and counting on an overburdened police department to not follow up.

I don't think there is an easy answer. The CNN video (5th link down) is very telling of just how much of a war zone the high school campus is. What a terrible way for young people to have to live, feeling unsafe and as if they have no reasonable future to look forward to.

Anonymous said...

i have just relived what actually happened to me,this is very similar to what i went tru except i was 17,,,,,,,i was toooo imbaressed and ashamed to come foward to report it and nothing was ever done,i still only remember being hit and slapped by at least 8, i remember being bit and they left me in a ditch,,,,i went to school for a few days and then quit because i was soooooooo ashamed and of couse everyone knew and made fun and even the girlfriends of these boys witnessed it and nothing was done,,,,so this is nothing new,,,, it happens way to often unreported,,,,,i pray for the victim,,,u never get over it,,,i am now 43 and still bare the deep emotional scares and pain