Friday, December 31, 2010

Violent Encounter And Its Aftermath

"I should've kept walking."

Looking back that's how Chris Rigsbee would have handled the situation.

2 AM. Chris and his girlfriend walked along Broad Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Plattsburgh City. They were on their way to visit a friend. Chris wore a cap with a rainbow design.

Some people on a porch were partying. Apparently they thought his cap was a symbol for gay pride. They shouted homophobic slurs at Chris: "Faggot!" "Queer!"

Chris admits he was a little intoxicated that night. He wasn't looking for a fight -- he says he isn't a fighter.

I had to agree with him when he discussed the incident with me. He is an easy-going person, friendly, not the muscular rough-and-tumble type ready to take on any man in the bar. A bully would quickly size him up as an easy target with his long blond hair, eyeglasses, and thin build. It took four bullies to work him over that night after he stood his ground, verbally confronting them.

Once again in hindsight, Chris says he should have ignored them. The men were out to bait someone into a fight. He shouldn't have stepped on the sidewalk leading to the house.

But his response didn't justify the men knocking out his teeth, bashing his head into the pavement until blood was gushing from his mouth. When they were done, leaving him unable at first to even move, they told him: "Get the fuck off our property!"

Chris found himself in the CVPH emergency room. For most people hospital treatment would mean the worse was over. But since he didn't have health insurance, the ER surgeon refused to treat him. Chris believes that if his father wasn't with him he would have never received a MRI to check for head injuries. As it was his father had to clean him up in the ER, wiping the blood from his face.

The ER gave his father the name of an oral surgeon to contact in the morning. Chris was taken home where his mother also cleaned his wounds.

According to his mother, Samantha Rigsbee, when the dental surgeon's office opened, the surgeon refused to treat her son because Chris didn't have health insurance, even though his parents to willing to pay. He had to be taken to the family dentist who worked on his injuries, pulling out a dead tooth. Samantha watched as the dentist also extracted embedded gravel out of her son's gums.

Chris wasn't the only victim. One of the brave attackers punched his girlfriend who was trying to help him.

In the aftermath Chris decided to be pro-active. He contacted the college, PSUC, because the four men who assaulted him were apparently college students. The PSUC official said that there was nothing the college could do. Did Chris really know if his attackers were students at the school? Anyway, it didn't happen on college property and a fraternity wasn't involved, so nothing could be done.

In loco parentis? Apparently PSUC speaks no Latin.

Chris went to the City Police Department to get a copy of the incident report. He was told that he had to file a FOIL -- a Freedom of Information Law request -- to get what should be public information.

Chris points out that while arrest reports are given out to the press, incident reports are held back from the public. This results in under-reporting, leaving the public in the dark with how many cases of violent encounters are still open. While revealing the number might create an image problem, he thinks that the public should know about the open cases because if more people are aware, then more victims would come forward.

He does raise a good argument. How many times has someone been charged with a crime and other victims realized they aren't alone, they come forward and reveal other crimes by same person? Maybe a case would be closed if other victims knew the police were actively pursuing the matter. Chris had to take his story to the media to get attention to the situation, newspaper articles detailing his case.

Plattsburgh has a problem with assaults. And sweeping it under a large rug isn't going to help.

I wonder if that rug looks like a mountain.

1 comment:

tourpro said...

I've had issues in the past with lack of communication from our local govt and departments.

LAPD has an excellent example of community blog. It's really quite easy to do if you truly wish to communicate.

Plattsburgh PD policy of making you go there to get incident information, daily, is so last century. Try getting a document list from any agency or even finding the official records officer.

Electronic FOIL and delivery of information should be mandatory and efficient. Everything in the public domain should be instantly available to the taxpayers.