Beating near Sebastian Joes outrages community

Kate Anderson’s lips pursed and trembled as she spoke uneasily about the violent robbery of her older brother, Robert.

Her eyes teared up when she described her family’s heartache to a room of about 30 East Isles and Lowry Hill residents at a Lowry Hill Residents Inc. board meeting on Feb. 12. Robert, an autistic 27-year-old who lives in the area, was attacked Jan. 25 on his way to Sebastian Joe’s on West Franklin Avenue. The incident sparked a neighborhood outcry and raised questions about local law enforcement and safety in the area.

Robert sat quietly by at the meeting and listened to his younger sister recount his attack.

It went something like this:

At around 8:30 p.m. on that cold Friday, Robert set off on foot toward his favorite local coffee shop and ice cream parlor. Sebastian Joe’s is just four blocks from Robert’s East Isles apartment, and employees there call him a “regular.”

During the roughly five minutes it took Robert to walk from his Girard Avenue apartment to Sebastian Joe’s, he passed two young men near West 22nd Street and Dupont Avenue.

He heard the two men exchange some faint whispers before they followed in line behind him, pushed him down and repeatedly punched and kicked him in the head. The attackers made off with Robert’s backpack, containing his wallet, checkbook and cell phone.

When he made it to Sebastian Joe’s, where he normally enjoys Large Double Depth Charges or a double scoop of ice cream, he was covered in blood and unable to speak. Employees there helped him inside and dialed 911.

“It was brutal,” said Lisa Bogle, Robert’s aunt who flew into Minneapolis from California to be with him during his two-day stay at Hennepin County Medical Center. “Another kick in the head, we could have been going to the funeral.”

“It was pretty surprising considering the neighborhood,” said
William Ebert, Sebastian Joe’s general manager, adding that Robert is always eager to meet and talk with new people in the shop. “He really believes in people being honest and genuine and nice, and obviously these people weren’t.”

Anderson’s family and some members of the community not only found the attack on Robert appalling, but the Minneapolis Police Department’s response equally so.

The Anderson family alleges it’s been difficult working with police and getting them to investigate the crime, initially classified as a non-vehicular accident.

Craig Wilson, president of Lowry Hill Residents Inc., said the group’s past experience with police has been positive, so he and others were surprised to hear otherwise.

“Our community has responded with outrage and disbelief to both the attack and the way in which the police were alleged to have treated the victim and his family,” Wilson said.

Insp. Kristine Arneson of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct said the incident was handled appropriately.

“We did all the right things as far as the precinct goes,” she said. “We went to the original call, and the victim couldn’t tell us what happened. We didn’t know there was a crime, but we did write a report.”

On the night of Anderson’s assault, police initially attributed his injuries — he suffered from bleeding and swelling in his brain, a nose broken in two places, a number of cuts that needed stitches and several bruises — to a possible slip on ice. Robert was not able to immediately recall what happened to him, but it became quickly apparent to Anderson’s family that something more sinister had happened.

“He had a boot print on his forehead. He didn’t have his wallet. He didn’t have his backpack. So it was really obvious that he had been robbed,” Kate Anderson said.

Two days later, Robert recalled that the suspects were two men in their late teens or early 20s, and were wearing hoods.

A relative reported the information to police, who reclassified the incident “robbery of person.”

Arneson said it was right for the responding officers not to report the incident as a robbery without the proper information.

“Without any information that an assault had occurred, he could have tripped and fallen and done a head dive and had the same injuries,” Arneson said. “But once we knew that wasn’t the case, we changed it.”

Police filed a subpoena for cell phone records — a potential starting point to find out who was using the phone after the robbery — but said it could take until early March to receive them. Police also said they’ll have a stack of upwards of 3,000 robbery cases this year, which all compete for the department’s limited resources and attention.

Bogle, frustrated and unsatisfied with the police’s response to the incident, said she thought there were not enough officers on patrol and that the department takes a reactive rather than proactive approach to crime.

“There’s a real false sense that there’s protection and safety in Minneapolis, and it’s not there,” Bogle said. “It’s something I think the community could have a better awareness of. God forbid it happens to someone else.”

Chelsea Adams, a city crime prevention specialist, attended the Feb. 12 neighborhood meeting and said it was important that people report any suspicious behavior they witness.

“Don’t worry about bothering the police,” Adams said. “If your intuition says: ‘this is strange. This is wrong. What’s that loud banging?’ Call it in.”

Lowry Hill has seen some violent, unusual crimes recently including a November home invasion and robbery. But it still has some of the lowest crime rates in Southwest.

During the month of January, Lowry Hill had a total of 14 “part one” crimes, a category that includes homicide, rape, robbery, aggrivated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson. For Lowry Hill, the breakdown was one robbery, one assault, three burglaries, eight larcenies and one auto theft.

Neighboring East Isles had a total of 11 part one crimes in January. The city’s most problematic neighborhood during the month of January, Downtown West, had 166 part one crimes.

Violent crime throughout the 5th Precinct from the start of the year to Feb. 2 was up nearly 28 percent, but Arneson attributed most of that increase to a rash of 20 robberies during the first week of January.

Southwest officers had made 15 arrests for robbery as of Feb. 2, 10 more than in 2007.

Anxious to get home to his two cats, Robert was released from the hospital a couple of days after the attack on the condition that his family gives him 24-hour supervision. He will return to his travel agency job in early March.

As Kate Anderson closed her recount of the events of Jan. 25 and the weeks of frustration and disappointment ahead, she reminded the room of Lowry Hill and East Isles residents: “Something really, really bad can happen to any of us.”

Jake Weyer contributed to this report.