EDITOR'S NOTE: The alleged victim in this case has been charged with making a false report.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson has called in the FBI to help investigate what he is calling a hate crime because a woman assaulted by three black teens is Bosnian.
The Friday morning attack occurred in the Bevo Mill neighborhood where earlier this week a Bosnian man was killed with a hammer by a group of teens.
In Friday’s case, the woman, 26, told police that she was driving in the 4600 block of Lansdowne Avenue about 5:25 a.m. when three men in their late teens to early 20s walked in front of her vehicle.
When the woman attempted to drive around the young men, at least one of them pulled a gun and ordered her to stop. One of the men struck the windshield with an object police said could have been a crowbar. The woman was pulled from the vehicle while another of the men opened the passenger door and went through the woman’s purse, saying it was empty. One of the men threw her cellphone to the ground and stomped on it.
One of the men asked where the woman was from. She said she was European.
“You’re a (expletive) liar. You’re Bosnian. I should just kill you now,” Dotson said of the woman’s account.
Based on that comment, he said, police are labeling the assault as a hate crime.
The woman was pushed to the ground and kicked before the attackers fled. A passer-by told police the woman was found unconscious. She declined to be taken to a hospital for treatment, saying she would go later.
Dotson said designating the attack as a hate crime could lead to additional charges and prison time. Suspect descriptions are scant and he is urging the community to help identify the men.
The incident occurred five days after Zemir Begic, a 32-year-old Bosnian man, was killed in the 4200 block of Itaska Street. About 1:15 a.m. Sunday, he was walking to his car with his fiancée and two others when four teens confronted the group. At least one of them struck Begic with a hammer. He suffered injuries to his face, head and abdomen. Police said they have no evidence to believe Begic was targeted because of his race, although some in the community have doubts.
Robert Joseph Mitchell, 17, was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Two other suspects, 15 and 16, are in custody. Another suspect remained at large Friday. At least two of the teens are black, and one is Hispanic.
On Friday, 19 organizations, many that work directly with Bosnians and other refugees, released a statement, urging police to strengthen their presence in all parts of the city including the Bevo Mill neighborhood. Dotson said he is increasing foot patrols and the presence of unmarked vehicles in Bevo Mill.
“Bosnians know the consequences of division and violence as well as anyone in our community,” the statement reads. “Let us build upon that experience as we repair our broken hearts and divided city.”