Richmond police determined Friday that at least three people attacked by a crowd of young black men at Century 16 Hilltop theater this month were victims of hate crimes.
Two victims were attacked Aug. 11 outside the theater, and one was assaulted inside, stomped by at least 30 men while the film “Step Up” continued to roll, Police Chief Chris Magnus said.
The theater staff failed to help any of the victims. In one case, a witness reported employees in the theater lobby laughing as they watched a crowd of about 10 men beat and kick a woman huddled on the sidewalk in front of the building.
If identified, some of the attackers could face felony assault charges, Magnus said.
“We’re really getting a horrific picture of what happened up there that night,” Magnus said. “We are now saying that some of the factors present indicate there was a potential hate crime.”
But police have been unable to identify suspects, or even the victim huddled on the sidewalk, in part because of a failure on the part of patrol officers to do their jobs properly on the night of the incident, Magnus said. Officers failed to take one victim’s report until his mother phoned later to complain. They routed another victim’s report as “vandalism.”
In the “vandalism” case, Magnus confirmed, a crowd of young black men in front of the theater smashed the window of the victim’s car and tried to drag her out by her ponytail, while someone shouted, “Get the white bitch!”
The incident began about an hour into the movie, police said, during a scene dealing with interracial dating. A crowd of young black men seated in the back rows began shouting and throwing candy toward the front of the theater, mainly occupied by Latinos and Filipinos.
Philip Herrera, 23, stood up and asked them to stop pelting his girlfriend and mother. In response, several men hauled him out of his seat and beat him severely enough to cause a concussion, according to the victim and witnesses. Dozens of others joined in kicking him as he crawled up the aisle.
Although Herrera said he did not believe his beating was racially motivated, his mother thought it was. So did City Councilman John Marquez, who also suggested that ethnic animus on the part of the officers, who are black, influenced their response.
“This has been going on for years,” said Aleta Martinez, Herrera’s aunt. “I was born and raised in Richmond, and I’ve lived with harassment and racial discrimination my entire life. It’s gotten worse and worse there.”
Mayor Irma Anderson, who is black, skirted the race issue.
“Violence against anyone is totally unacceptable regardless of who the perpetrator is and who the victim is,” she said. “It saddens me that there still exists challenges to building trust between the Police Department and the local community.”
The victim who attackers tried to pull from her car, Rene, told the Times she drove to the theater in her pajamas about 11:30 p.m. to pick up her son, who attended the 9:55 p.m. showing. She said that when she arrived, she saw a large crowd in front of the theater, and several people beating the unidentified victim huddled there.
Rene asked the Times not to publish her full name because she is afraid.
She said she apparently drove too close to the beating, because the crowd turned on her car. Several of the men jumped on her car, kicking and pounding. They smashed her rear windshield and stole her purse.
When police arrived, the men were trying to drag Rene out of her car by her hair.
“(Police) told me to get the hell out of there,” she said, “because it wasn’t safe.”