At Tuesday’s meeting of the Mount Vernon Police Station’s Citizens Advisory Council, station commander Mike Kline announced that police have identified seven suspects in a series of assaults and robberies that occurred in the Hybla Valley area in late December. He said all the assaults targeted Hispanic people.
Kline said he was upset by the case, not only because the nature of the crime, but because of where most of the suspects could be found: in one elementary and two middle schools. Kline said one 15 year-old, three 14 year-olds, two 13 year-olds, and one 12 year-old were set to be arrested on Wednesday for charges that include assault by mob and hate crimes. One of the suspects attends an Alexandria City middle school, the rest are in Fairfax County schools, although one is listed as being “home-schooled” and the other was expelled from a high school.
The child and teenagers committed many of the crimes as they walked home in the evenings after spending the day in community recreation centers.
“It’s terrible,” Kline said. “No one thinks about a 12 year-old, I mean A 12 year-old in sixth grade, having the capability to take a brick and smash someone’s head solely because they’re a different ethnicity.”
THE ASSAULTS BEGAN ON DEC. 15, according to a police report, and continued almost daily through Dec. 19. On Dec. 15, four of the suspects attacked a 46 year-old man, punching him several times and stealing his tools. On Dec. 16, a large group approached a 33 year-old man, hit him in the face and stole beer from him. Later in the evening, a 58-year-old man was delivering pizza when six to 10 people opened his car door and stole the pizzas. On Dec. 17, two of the suspects started talking to a 24-year-old man walking between the Multi-Plex and Walmart, then they attacked him, striking him with beer bottles and kicking him.
On the early evening of Dec. 19, according to the police report, an officer saw a group of 15-20 teenagers walking down Ladson Lane. Later he encountered an injured man, 48, who said the group of youths had crossed the street to attack him, hitting him with their fists and feet.This was the last attack, Kline said. Police began putting pressure on the suspects, getting tips from “people sick of crap going on in their neighborhood.”
KLINE SAID THE CRIMES have forced him to rethink the police’s approach to crime prevention in the area. “Whatever we’re doing now ain’t working – from the aspect of stopping kids and their families in that repetitive cycle.”
Kline said he is considered writing letters to the parents of youths that his officers find outside unsupervised after 10 p.m. But the police can only treat the symptoms of the problem. Kline emphasized his plans to work with the community to address the social problems manifested so starkly by the youths committing hate crimes.
“That’s going to be a lot of my focus for 2007,” Kline said, “to see if we can figure out how we can get this revolving cycle to stop.”
Kline has worked closely with many of the area’s human services providers during his tenure. He has already contacted county human services staff to plan community outreach and “help try to get these communities to take responsibility for themselves so they’re watching out for these kids.”
Sarah Allen, the county’s human services coordinator in Mount Vernon, attended the CAC meeting. “Captain Kline has reached out to us to ask, ‘How do we make this a human services/police issue?’” she said. They are considering options like holding public meetings and coordinating with existing community based programs and social services.
“It’s not just one set of kids; it’s all of our kids,” she said.
Kline stressed that the suspects’ parents had little reason to suspect they were up to no good. Most of the crimes were committed relatively early in the evening when the children were presumed to be on their way home from supervised activities at the recreation centers. “They’re coming from the place that the county created for them to have something to do.”
“I’m sure their parents care, but something is not right,” said newly-installed assistant commander Dave Russell.