Charlottesville police are conducting an internal audit of what they described as a “breakdown” in their response to a beating on the Downtown Mall, the department said Monday.
Police Chief Timothy J. Longo reviewed a report on the case Monday morning and immediately assigned detectives to investigate the attack, police said. It took place at 1:40 a.m. Dec. 20, when three black men assaulted a man and a woman on the mall, according to the victims and police.
The man was knocked unconscious, lost a tooth and suffered a fractured ankle and several cracked ribs, while the woman suffered bruised ribs, a cut on her neck and injuries to an ear, police said. Authorities said they could not say whether they have identified suspects.
A night shift officer and a day shift counterpart were the only police investigating in the 10 days following the attack, Charlottesville police Lt. Ronnie Roberts said. The chief wants to know why the case wasn’t handed to investigators earlier, Roberts said.
“We had an internal breakdown,” Roberts said. “[Longo] wants to make sure this never happens again.”
Word of the internal probe came on the eve of Charlottesville’s First Night Virginia celebration, the signature city event held annually on and around the mall. Roberts said First Night won’t be affected, and the event will be heavily patrolled, as usual.
Visitors to the mall Monday said they were not concerned about safety there.
The woman injured in the attack said she was shocked and disappointed to learn Sunday that no detective had been looking into the case. The attackers high-fived and hugged one another during the assault, the woman said. A passerby called 911, she said.
“They didn’t want to rob us. They wanted to beat us. It was like it was enjoyable to them to beat us,” she said. “There was camaraderie to it.”
Police have not identified a motive, Roberts said. Officers arrived at the scene at 1:49 a.m. but the attackers were gone, he said. Officers searched the area around the mall, but found no one matching the description the woman gave, he said. She has posted to her Facebook page what she described as photographs taken from her cell phone of the attackers.
The injured man declined medical help but called police the next day to give a more detailed statement and describe his injuries, Roberts said in a news release.
“The officer investigating this, who was a midnight officer, was juggling that and trying to take care of the victim,” Roberts said.
Police requested surveillance footage Dec. 24 from Wells Fargo bank, near where the attack ended, Roberts said. He could not say whether police had retrieved the footage.
Wells Fargo officials declined to comment.
The woman said the attackers kicked the man after he tripped and fell. After the first blow, she said, she pushed one of the attackers, who punched her in the head, tearing her ear.
Mall ambassadors – a group of part-time liaisons who help tourists navigate the mall and serve as lookouts for police – usually go off work by 11 p.m., and none would have been on duty when the attack happened, Roberts said.
In 2012, the City Council denied Longo’s request for $1 million to add extra police to patrol the mall. Instead, officials added the force of mall ambassadors.