‘Error in judgment’ cited in attack

Issuing misdemeanor summonses to two of the three people involved in the “brutal attack on an innocent family” at a gas station in north Baton Rouge Sunday night was an “error in judgment” by the officers who did not book the suspects into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, Provisional Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr., said Friday.

“We have counseled the officers involved and I have re-emphasized to all my commanders that I expect offenders who commit misdemeanor crimes of violence will be booked into the prison, not summonsed,” Dabadie said in a statement.

Dabadie, who had his provisional status extended another 90 days Thursday by the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, added that the department concluded its investigation. If new information is unearthed, “the charges could still be amended later if there is justification to do so.”

His statement comes five days after Donald Ray Dickerson, 41; Devin Bessye, 24; and Ashley Simmons, 22, allegedly attacked a white family at the Chevron gas station on Scenic Highway. Dickerson is accused of taunting the 41-year-old victim about his pink shirt and told him that he was “in the wrong neighborhood and he was not going to make it out,” before knocking the man unconscious.

Dickerson, recently released from federal prison after a 10-year sentence on weapons charges, was booked into Parish Prison with one count of second-degree battery, a felony.

A witness, Mykeisha Henderson, has said the fight did not appear to be racially motivated and began with Dickerson teasing the victim for wearing a pink shirt.

Bessye and Simmons were issued misdemeanor simple battery summonses that accuse them of assaulting the victim’s wife and 14-year-old daughter.

Baton Rouge police spokesman Lt. Don Kelly said Tuesday that officers have the discretion to either issue summonses or arrest people suspected of misdemeanor crimes.

He explained that this can help ease jail overcrowding and allow officers to get back in service more quickly after an incident.

Former Chief Dewayne White had issued a directive for officers to book all misdemeanor arrests. Dabadie has amended the directive and said he only wants misdemeanors involving violence booked, Kelly said.

Dabadie said he takes seriously all questions and concerns about how the department handled the investigation and at his command, detectives have reviewed all aspects of the case to simultaneously ensure that “it’s handled without prejudice” and that the decisions “made by our officers and investigators in this case were the correct ones.”

Detectives re-interviewed witnesses and the victims and re-examined the evidence with prosecutors. In the statement, Dabadie added that his department “will forward all our reports to the District Attorney’s Office and work closely with them to make sure the suspects are prosecuted to the fullest possible extent of the law.”

Despite public pleas that Dickerson be booked with a hate crime, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said he is strongly considering charging Dickerson as a habitual offender because he would face a harsher sentence — possibly life behind bars.

Baton Rouge police did not book Dickerson with a hate crime.

An FBI hate crime manual for law enforcement notes an “important distinction” must be made in reporting hate crimes. Just because a suspect is biased against a victim, the manual says, does not necessarily mean a hate crime has occurred.

“Rather, the offender’s criminal act must have been motivated, in whole or in part, by his or her bias,” the manual states.

Moore said his office has not made a decision yet on how it would charge Dickerson.

“It’s gonna be some time before we eventually make a decision,” Moore said.

Moore also said he was waiting for the FBI and U.S. Attorney Don Cazayoux to decide whether they will charge Dickerson with a hate crime.

Dabadie in the statement said he will let the FBI decide if or when it releases information from their investigation and his department will make no further statements about the case until it goes to court.

Mary Beth Romig, an FBI spokeswoman, said Friday that the case is still under review and had no further comment.