|The victim of a TriMet altercation on Dec. 26, 2011, shown sitting at left moments after the fight; the full video of the incident has become fodder for white supremacist websites.|
A violent incident between teenaged girls on a MAX train, caught on a cell phone the day after Christmas, is apparently not the "hate crime" that some media reported.
Documents obtained by The Skanner News – as well as the complete video tape of the tussle, in which no one was injured – show that the white, female victim was not a random target of racist black teens.
Rather, according to police reports, the victim first engaged with her attackers in a verbal altercation over a flirtation with her boyfriend, in the moments before the slapping and hitting depicted in the video.
Documents show that two of the women charged in the incident are being pressured to accept a plea bargain that would send them to the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for 15-18 months.
"This is the only offer I will make and am doing so because I believe the public should know, as soon as possible, that this crime was not a race based attack but had a completely separate motive," wrote Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney John Copic to the women's lawyer, James Britt of Calhoun & Fishback, in a memo on Jan. 26.
Sandra Abiori, the grandmother of two of the teens, says the incident has been mischaracterized as a racist attack and, with the help of the media, blown out of proportion.
"I'm not saying that the girls were in the right – they should never have hit anyone," she says. "The problem I have is that, here this girl opened her mouth and started a fight – and now my family has to face prison time?
"Where's the fairness in that?"
Meanwhile, white supremacists have taken the complete video clip and reposted it on racist websites and a YouTube channel with the caption, "Portland: MAX Green Line Train - Anti-white Mob Assault on White Teenage Girl (Graphic)."
On Jan. 12, police arrested three sisters -- one 13, one 16 and 18-year-old Rakeshia Burns -- on felony charges of riot, third degree assault, second degree disorderly conduct, harassment, and interfering with public transportation.
The Skanner News is not reprinting the juveniles' names, although the victim has been identified in numerous media reports; both the underage girls charged with crimes have been released from the juvenile justice center, issued GPS monitors and are awaiting court proceedings.
Selena Harris -- who is Abiori's daughter and the mother of the 13-year-old and Burns -- is charged with hindering prosecution for allegedly denying to the police on the phone that her daughters were at home, when, police say, they were; police also say that Harris was trying to arrange for her 18-year-old to flee the charges.
The white teenager, whose story conflicts with accounts of her friends and has changed over time as reflected in the police reports, has not been charged with any offense.
In the first police report, dated Dec. 26, the reporting officer describes interviews with the victim, her boyfriend and another friend in the moments after the fight.
"[The boyfriend] said they were on the back car and 3 B/F's (black females) got on the train and told him that he was 'cute,'" the initial police report says. "[The boyfriend] told me that [the victim] did not like the females telling him this and words were exchanged which led to the 3 BF's hitting [the victim]."
The sergeant wrote in the report that the victim was examined by emergency workers soon after the incident and found to be uninjured. According to the victim, the report says, she was attacked because she laughed when "the BF's told her to 'stop sassing.'"
"[The victim] was very concerned about what her father would think and that this was her fault," the sergeant wrote.
When the investigating officer telephoned the victim's father, "[He] said he was more concerned with [the victim] putting herself into situations that could be avoided," he wrote.
The victim's second friend, also a teenaged girl, told investigators in January that the victim "had an attitude with the girls and began exchanging words with them."
"I thought she was going to fight when she stood up and took her headphones out her ears," the victim's friend said.
"I was intimidated by the crowd," she told the police. "I wanted to help, but I saw people screaming and yelling.
"I thought they would have beat me up if I helped."
At issue in the case is the original video of the fight, which police reports indicate was circulating at the victim's school, and had been posted to Facebook. TriMet has confirmed that their security video wasn't working right that day; although neither law enforcement, TriMet nor members of the media know who made it, the clip is certainly from a bystander's cell phone.
This longer video, received by police officers Jan. 6, shows some of the lead-up to the altercation, including the victim standing up to the three other teenaged girls before the three sisters quickly advance on the victim with quick slapping motions; the hitting continues for about 20 seconds before the sisters withdraw, and the victim sits up in her seat.
Throughout, other teens on the MAX literally jump up and down with glee as the standoff progresses.
"Throughout the 3 on 1 beating, several other subjects in the area began stomping around the train floor, climbing the support bars and standing on handrails in an effort to incite and instigate the crowd to physical violence," the police report says.
Yet the video shown repeatedly on television and the web has been edited to only show the hitting, as if the victim was quietly sitting on the train before it all started.
The repeated airing of this shorter video – which has included one television station's segment on viewers demanding the teens be charged with a hate crime -- appeared to have motivated the victim's family to press charges amid claims that their daughter "wasn't protected" on TriMet.
In fact the police reports show the family waited until Jan. 3 to call the police for the first time, and officially notified officers of their decision to press charges more than two weeks after the incident – after filming numerous television interviews on the case.
On Jan. 12, officers again interviewed the victim, with her parents' permission. The girl said that the fight caused her "eyes to roll back in her head," and that the next day she found she was bleeding from a scratch.
The officer writing the January report noted inconsistencies in her testimony compared to the police investigator's report just after the incident.
The victim said that, the previous month after the attack, she had a severe headache and two deep scratches across her chest; she told the officer that at the time she wasn't sure if she had lost consciousness.
"I advised [the victim] that she seemed to minimize her injuries from the attack, when interviewed by the news channels," the officer wrote in his report. "[The victim] told me the news reporters told her they wanted her to go on television so she could let the people know she was all right and okay," he wrote. "They were making her feel better about speaking on television.
"I explained to [the victim] how these comments can affect the investigation. She was not aware, and she assured me of her injuries."
According to the victim, the police report says, the attack started because she laughed at a joke one of the sisters made. This, she said, infuriated the other girl and prompted all three to start hitting; for her own part, the victim told police, she "did not provoke anything."