On a pleasant, partly sunny afternoon, an armed security guard stood watch over an apartment building in the Hubbard Farms neighborhood in southwest Detroit.
The guard wouldn’t say why he was there. But behind him last Tuesday, scrawled onto the ornate stone facade of the building on West Grand Boulevard, the word “rapist” could still be seen, even after efforts that morning to scrub it off. A faded blue arrow sprayed above the graffiti letters still pointed to an apartment window, still condemning whoever lived in that first-floor home.
But the 43-year-old occupant wasn’t there any longer. His family moved him, afraid he’d be killed.
Inside the homes on these tight-knit blocks and along the thriving businesses and vacant storefronts of Vernor Highway in Detroit’s Mexicantown, the former resident of that apartment is widely believed to be a rapist. His accuser is a 15-year-old girl who, as the streets have it, was cajoled into his apartment on July 17 and attacked. She’s from the neighborhood, too. She has Down syndrome. The neighborhood is furious.
The man has not been charged. Police still are investigating. And last Monday, nearly three weeks after the alleged attack, frustration over the slow pace of justice went from simmer to boil.
During the lunch hour, people located the man, whose name and image had been circulated in the community, walking along Vernor. They beat him repeatedly. Witnesses at one point saw five attackers. At least one had a baseball bat. The man spent several hours in the hospital that day and then went into hiding.
Now the community is torn. Some residents are horrified and wonder how this vigilantism happened. Others have applauded the attackers, posting hallelujahs on Facebook. The Free Press spent last week interviewing neighbors and witnesses and talking to police and prosecutors to piece together how it all came to this.
The walk to work is only four blocks. From her house, the girl goes two blocks north on Hubbard. Turns left on Vernor. Two more blocks to Cafe Con Leche, the neighborhood coffee shop. That’s where she works. The owner said he thinks it’s her first job.
The girl’s biological mother, a single woman, died of cancer about seven years ago, and the neighbors across the street took in the girl and her siblings as their own. Other neighbors help out, too, leading many to call the teen a daughter of the community. Her new parents have legal guardianship.
She loves to sit on her porch and to hip-hop dance. Friends said the coffee shop job — twice a week, two hours a day — is to help teach her some independence. She started July 8.
“She worked pretty hard,” said owner Jordi Carbonell, who has known the girl since she was 9. He also knows the rape suspect, saying he has had to kick the man out on occasion for hitting on women.
On July 17, the girl was late for her 3:30 p.m. start at the shop. Carbonell called her parents at 3:35, concerned. But the girl walked in a few minutes later, saying she had been with a friend.
But that night she told her parents that she had been raped. The girl, whom the Free Press is not naming because she is a possible victim of a sex crime, told police the man from the apartment building approached her as she walked to work and asked her to come to his home. Inside the apartment, she said, he kissed her, told her to disrobe and raped her. Then he took nude photos of her with his cell phone, she said. She dressed and walked to work.
The police were told the man’s nickname and address. He is known in the neighborhood, familiar for odd behavior, high socks and puffy hair. The Free Press is not naming him because he has not been charged.
The parents waited for the results of the investigation. There were delays.
Because of the girl’s age and some challenges she has in communicating, police set her up to speak with a specialist. The police also ordered a rape kit — DNA samples that are to be tested for evidence — but did not get it to a Michigan State Police lab for testing until last Monday, 19 days after the incident. The State Police tests rape evidence in Detroit cases.
Detroit Interim Deputy Chief Charles Fitzgerald, who runs the Criminal Investigations Bureau, on Friday blamed an office move for that delay, saying the sex crimes unit was moved to the new police headquarters during that time, and the rape kit was not delivered.
“It’s not an excuse,” Fitzgerald said. “It should have been done, and it wasn’t.”
He said he has launched an internal investigation.
In the meantime, frustration grew in the neighborhood. The girl’s parents are active in the community, and an alert signed with their names went to a local e-mail chain on July 26. The e-mail described the attack on their daughter and divulged that the man was still free in the neighborhood.
“Our family has been told not to rely on the justice system to protect or heal the family,” the e-mail read. “We need to protect and support each other in a nonviolent manner.”
The e-mail named the suspect and gave his nearby address.
The next day, another person posted another alarm: It, too, named the man and said he’d been asked to leave a youth function the previous evening in nearby Clark Park.
“BE AWARE THAT THIS MAN IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS,” the e-mail said.
On July 29, 12 days after the reported rape, a reassuring e-mail was sent out:
“I witnessed (the man) being escorted out of his apartment by the police.”
The suspect refused to answer a detective’s questions. Police swabbed his cheek to get a DNA sample, and a warrant request was sent to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. An assistant prosecutor sent it back, asking for more investigation, including looking for possible witnesses and searching the suspect’s apartment. On July 31, police released the man, who could no longer be held without criminal charges.
“We can’t charge cases until we have the evidence,” said the prosecutor’s spokeswoman, Maria Miller. “We need a case that we can prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The investigation continued. And restlessness grew.
The next day, another neighborhood activist weighed in on the e-mail forum:
“It has been confirmed that the rapist has been set free,” she wrote. “I would like to take some ACTIONS.”
She suggested creating a warning flyer with photos. “This is day 15 and NO ARREST WARRANT!!!!!!!”
Soon, the man’s name spread beyond the e-mail chain. Flyers papered Vernor Highway from Grand Boulevard to Clark Park. It featured two photos of the suspect and, in bold type: “Rapist Warning.” Amicci’s Pizza got one. Same with the dollar store and the Valero gas station, among others.
On Aug. 2, 16 days after the rape report, police searched the man’s apartment. An officer seized the man’s bed sheet, blanket and cell phone as possible evidence.
Still, no warrant for the man’s arrest. The rape kit had yet to be tested.
That day, state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, called the State Police about trying to speed up the test. She had one of the girl’s parents on the phone, too. Trouble was, the rape kit wouldn’t even arrive to State Police from Detroit for three more days.
On Aug. 3, the same woman pushing for action two days earlier posted again to the neighborhood e-mail chain, suggesting a collection to have the DNA evidence tested at a private lab. “This is UNACCEPTABLE once again,” she wrote.
Later that day, the fever for action hit Facebook, and the tone turned ugly.
The first post, on a page called “I grew up in Southwest Detroit,” read, in part:
“ATTENTION/WARNING: this piece of s--- u see in this flyer RAPED A (15) YR OLD GIRL IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD !!! ... me personally, if i seen him, id call the cops then i would beat the s--- out of him myself till the cops arrive. I HATE WORTHLESS SCUM LIKE THIS. STAND UP FOR YOUR HOOD.”
Within minutes, posts rolled in from people saying they recognized the man or had a creepy encounter with him in the past or just saw him recently walking here or there.
Then there was this: “Castration,” wrote one woman. And someone else: “The law better find this fool ... before the streets do.”
The next day, last Sunday, the call for violence continued. Someone posted a piece of artwork with the words: “This should be the punishment for child molestors and rapists.” The cartoon showed five naked men tied to chairs, rats gnawing at their genitals.
On Monday, there was news:
“GREAT NEWS FOR SOUTHWEST DETROIT... well...thanks to EVERYONE WHO SHARED THE FLYER AND SPREAD THE WORD. a friend of mine caught him.” The post went on to describe how the attackers found the suspect, “banged both legs & hands with bats,” and neighbors came out to join in.
Witnesses gave similar accounts to the Free Press.
It happened about 1 p.m. Monday. The suspect walked past Giovanna’s Lounge on Vernor near 24th Street. A witness saw a man on a bicycle ride up, carrying a baseball bat. He jumped off and yelled: “You like raping little girls?”
Then he hammered the man’s legs and continued beating him. The witness called police, but they showed up too late, saying they had been diverted to a fatal shooting outside a nearby Rite Aid store.
Meanwhile, the suspect had left Giovanna’s, somehow making his way up 25th Street near Toledo, where he was accosted again. Witnesses said up to five people beat the man in front of a home on the corner. A young boy said he saw someone kick the man in the face. Police came, witnesses said, but the man went home with a relative, who took him to the hospital with head and leg wounds. No one was arrested in his beating.
Later that day, back on Facebook, a heated debate ensued.
Of the attackers, one poster wrote: “And the people who beat him up weren’t arrested?”
“Why is that even relevant?” someone responded. “There should be No mercy. No compassion for the evil & wicked.”
The debate went back and forth, with others joining in to oppose the lone critic, who eventually started getting threats of his own.
In fact, someone even went to the critic’s Facebook page, fished out a photo of him and a young girl, presumably his daughter, and posted it for all to see. In the photo, he has his arm around her in a restaurant. She’s wearing pink and eating ice cream. They are smiling.
“What if it was her?” the poster wrote. “Would u feel the same then?”
The suspect never returned to his apartment after the attack. Neighbors reported that someone broke into his apartment overnight Monday, then spray-painted “rapist” five times by his windows. The building owner brought in armed security for the day. Other residents were nervous.
One resident, a man who asked not to be named, said the suspect lived in the building for about six months and yelled and screamed a lot.
“He’s just strange,” the man said, adding that the man called himself Super Fly and an Aztec warrior. He said the man often was confrontational.
Wayne County Probate Court records show the man has a mental illness. A judge committed him to a mental health facility in 2012 and appointed a guardian to handle his affairs after reports from caregivers that he was aggressive and possibly a danger to himself and others.
Dr. Bens Sandaire, a psychiatrist at BCA StoneCrest Center in Detroit, wrote in January 2012: “Patient is severely depressed. He feels hopeless and helpless. Has plans to kill himself by hanging.”
Tlaib, the state legislator representing the neighborhood where the suspect and the girl live, said she told police officials that something was going to happen if the rape investigation didn’t move quicker.
“The system failed not only the victim but this alleged rapist. His life was in jeopardy as soon as he committed that crime. No one addressed his mental illness properly,” she said. “We failed both of them completely. It’s just so sad.” ..Source.. by Jim Schaefer
Beaten by vigilantes, Detroit man gets 6 to 15 years for assault on teenage girl
A Detroit man was sentenced today to serve 6 to 15 years in prison, seven months after he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl and then was beaten by vigilantes.
The parents of the girl, who has Down syndrome, had asked Judge Craig Strong to send Ramiro Sanchez, 43, to a treatment facility for those who suffer from mental illness.
“Handing down a traditional prison sentence will not assist Mr. Sanchez in his rehabilitation,” said the girl’s mother in a sometimes tearful statement in Wayne County Circuit Court. “We want our daughter ... to be safe, our neighbors to be safe and Mr. Sanchez to be rehabilitated.”
The Free Press is not naming the girl or her mother because the paper does not generally identify victims of sexual assault.
Judge Strong said he did not believe Sanchez’s mental illness contributed to the crime, and noted he has a lengthy criminal history. In the past, a doctor diagnosed Sanchez with depression, and his lawyer said today Sanchez is bipolar and also suffered a brain injury years ago.
“It’s an unusual case,” Strong conceded, while referring to letters from the parents and their pastor requesting the alternative sentence. “But, you know, the court has to hold people accountable for what they’re doing.”
Sanchez pleaded guilty March 11 to third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He admitted taking the girl back to his apartment last July 17 and assaulting her there.
His arrest took too long for some people in the Hubbard Farms neighborhood in southwest Detroit. The Free Press reported in August how delays in Detroit Police sending DNA evidence for testing enraged some residents of the tight-knit community. Word spread over e-mails and Facebook to be wary of Sanchez, and flyers with his photograph could be seen around Mexicantown. Someone spray-painted “rapist” near his window.
About three weeks after the assault on the girl, Sanchez was found walking on Vernor at 24th near Giovanna’s Lounge. A witness told the newspaper she saw a man on a bicycle ride up, carrying a baseball bat. He jumped off and yelled: “You like raping little girls?”
Then he hammered Sanchez in the legs with the bat and continued beating him. That ended, and Sanchez made his way up 25th Street near Toledo. Witnesses said up to five people beat him near the corner. Police came, witnesses said, but Sanchez went home with a relative, who took him to the hospital with head and leg wounds. No one was arrested in his beating.
In court, Sanchez apologized.
“I’m sorry for everything that I have done,” he told Strong. “There’s times I suffer so much because of my mental illness.”
After court, Suzette Samuels, an assistant prosecutor on the case who heads the sex crimes unit, said Sanchez had a psychiatric evaluation before sentencing and was deemed competent. She said she disagreed with the victims’ parents on alternative sentencing, saying Sanchez deserved what he received.
“But we’ve still become friends,” Samuels said of the parents. “I totally respect their point of view.”
As he was led away to jail, Sanchez said, “Thank you” to the judge. ..Source.. by Jim Schaefer