By Wafir Salih | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Alexandria Police Department is facing sharp criticism for its delay in alerting the community about an attempted abduction on September 1.
According to a person who reviewed security footage of the event, at approximately 11:09 p.m. at the intersection of S. Washington Street and Wilkes Street, an unknown assailant ambushed a young woman on the sidewalk, placed her in a chokehold and dragged her into an alley behind Firehook Bakery. Although she managed to escape, the assailant remains at large.
Police scanner reports from that time, available on openmhz.com, indicate an initial call came in at 11:09:44 about a “flag down” for a person who had possibly been attacked by a male subject. At 11:13:48, a dispatch came through calling for an ambulance for a 30-year-old female with an injury to her mouth at the same location, at 600 Wilkes St. At 11:16:39 a dispatch call referred to the female’s facial injury as being “from an assault.”
Despite the severity of the incident, APD did not notify residents through the eNews alert system until September 14. While violent abductions resulting in injuries typically warrant an immediate alert, a robbery with no injuries, which is how police initially characterized the incident, does not.
Resident Christine Roberts said she believes it’s important for alerts to be sent to the community as soon as possible.
“I think in an instance where there is a perpetrator on the loose that has committed a violent assault against a member of the community, it’s imperative for the safety of the community that the community is noticed as soon as possible so we can take appropriate extra precautions above and beyond the precautions that we take on a day-to-day basis,” Roberts said.
The individual we spoke with, who reviewed the security video but wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons, was vexed by the police response.
“The community is definitely frustrated. It’s not like there were a lot of people on the street. He should’ve been caught that night,” they said.
This same individual described in detail what they saw on the security footage.
“The suspect is seen walking behind her until he passed the Firehook parking lot. At that time he started attacking her. After struggling with her, he grabbed her from the neck and took her behind the east side of the Firehook building alleyway,” the individual said. “A car coming up from North Washington made a left onto Wilkes Street and happened to see the incident. The good Samaritan stopped, and the victim ran immediately to their car and the suspect fled the opposite direction.”
Further detailing the footage, they say the suspect appeared to be trailing the young woman, keeping about five to six feet away from her. Upon reaching the intersection, the culprit began his assault.
Following the victim’s escape, a single police officer was dispatched to the scene in response to a call from the driver who witnessed the attack.
The individual expressed disappointment in the police response.
“I just wished they dispatched more officers [that night] to catch the suspect because he’s on the loose right now,” they said. “One of my friends I spoke to told me, ‘I wish they dispatched a helicopter,’ and it’s true. [The perpetrator] could’ve killed her.”
APD responded on Wednesday afternoon following multiple requests from the Times for comment in the previous days. APD spokesman Marcel Bassett attempted to clarify when APD sends an alert by sending a list of 10 instances, that includes “Felonious Assault (resulting in serious injury),” “Sexual Assaults Involving Strangers” and “Commercial Robbery or any robbery involving serious injury.”
While the victim in the September 1 assault was injured enough to warrant an ambulance response, it apparently didn’t meet the APD threshold of “serious injury.” Likewise, while the assailant may have had sexual intent, the good Samaritan’s intervention precluded that from happening.
The nature of the incident was further muddled because at 11:19:15, a male voice on the police scanner abruptly said, “Move this to another channel and change the classification to a robbery, please.”
The city’s crime report database has two entries for this incident, the first one is case 23-082086 and refers to the incident as a “robbery.” The second case number is 23- 082086* and lists the crime as “KIDNAPPING/ABDUCTION” in capital letters.
The individual who viewed the footage challenged APD’s initial robbery explanation.
“It’s common sense. If I wanted to steal your phone I’d say, ‘Hey, hand it over.’” The individual went on to emphasize, “This guy dragged her to the back [of the alleyway.] I’m thinking he wanted to do something else.”
They also commented on how bizarre the suspect’s actions were.
“He must’ve been crazy,” they said. “He did this in the middle of the intersection. There are cameras all over the block, people walking down the sidewalk, cars driving down the road. He’s lucky a cop wasn’t in the area driving by that night.”
This incident ignited a heated discussion on the social media platform, NextDoor. Many users voiced their dissatisfaction that the incident wasn’t reported soon enough by APD. One person highlighted how the department finally issued an eNews release on September 14 notifying the public and asking for tips.
“Two weeks after the fact,” another user responded. “Two weeks with the violent criminal on our streets unreported. This is not OK.”
Amid the discussion, one user detailed their own experience with APD and was critical of the department’s handling of a past situation.
“In October 2016, I witnessed a woman get groped and grabbed on the Mount Vernon Trail in Old Town North. It was about two weeks before a report was ever filed, despite the fact that I met with several officers shortly after the incident happened. The only reason that a report was actually filed was because someone associated with U.S. Park Police took note of my homemade sign warning others and called around two weeks later. By then, camera footage from the old coal plant had expired. My guess is that Alexandria Police did not believe that the incident actually happened – unfortunately this is [a] bit of a trend.”
Another recent incident took place at 6:45 p.m. on August 20, in daylight, on South Lee Street on a gravel path that connects to the Mt. Vernon bike path. A man exposed himself to and propositioned a 17-year-old girl.
According to an Old Town resident with knowledge of this situation, the girl then ran up to a woman on the street, who helped the girl get home safely. The Old Town resident, who requested anonymity for safety reasons, said the man then circled around the girl and her good Samaritan twice in his car. This resident believes if not for the good Samaritan, the girl likely would have been abducted.
The APD has not issued a release about this incident, which was classified as indecent exposure.
In a proactive move, Roberts submitted a 311-request concerning the September 1 incident.
“The response that I received from the mayor was immediate,” Roberts said. “I sent it to all the [City] Council and the mayor, and three other council members as well had near immediate responses back to me. I was incredibly impressed by that.”
Mayor Justin Wilson, in an email exchange with Roberts, shed light on the intricacies of police investigations.
“It is not uncommon for a crime to be reported as one thing [sometimes relatively minor], but then upon investigation [sometimes days later] we realize that it was something much more serious,” Wilson said. “We won’t typically go back and do a public alert for something that happened days later, unless we’re looking for information [or advising about information we have] from the community.”
Wilson verified in his communication with Roberts that APD initially classified the September 1 incident as an attempted robbery.
“I did confirm that there was no release issued because this was initially reported to Police as a robbery with no injuries,” Wilson said in the email, which was dated September 14, the same day the police eNews alert was issued.
Bassett, however, insisted that “The initial report stated attempted robbery and abduction” and that there had been no revision in the characterization of the incident.
The APD issued an alert two weeks after the September 1 incident and is actively seeking information; the community remains vigilant as the suspect is still at large.