DA decides against hate crime in gas station beating

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Friday he has decided not to pursue hate crime charges against Donald Ray Dickerson, the ex-convict accused of assaulting a man at a gas station in May after telling him he had stopped in “the wrong neighborhood.”

Instead, Moore said, he intends to charge Dickerson as a habitual offender, potentially subjecting him to a life sentence behind bars.

Moore had considered charging Dickerson with a hate crime “enhancement” to second-degree battery because of the racial overtones of the attack. A hate crime conviction in Louisiana enhances a felony sentence by up to five years, but prosecutors say it can be challenging to prove a crime was motivated by a suspect’s bias.

The victim and his family also did not wish for Dickerson, 41, to be charged with a hate crime, Moore said. The district attorney noted that Dickerson faces a much stiffer sentence under the state’s habitual offender law.

He pointed to a provision under state law that requires criminals convicted of four felonies — at least two of which are crimes of violence — to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Dickerson, who had recently been released from federal prison at the time of the attack, has previously been convicted of purse snatching, carnal knowledge of a juvenile and armed robbery, Moore said.

Prosecutors filed charges of second-degree battery against Dickerson this week in the gas station attack. He also faces a charge of failing to register as a sex offender.

The beating happened about 11 p.m. on May 12 at a Chevron station on Scenic Highway in north Baton Rouge. Dickerson, who is black, is accused of knocking a white man unconscious after telling him he was “in the wrong neighborhood and he was not going to make it out,” according to court filings.

Two other suspects, Devin Bessye, 24, and Ashley Simmons, 22, allegedly struck the man’s wife and 14-year-old daughter. Both were issued summonses for simple battery, a misdemeanor.

Provisional Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. has said the officers who decided not to book Bessye and Simmons into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison were counseled for an “error in judgment.”

Baton Rouge police Lt. Don Kelly has said officers did not feel there was probable cause for Dickerson to be booked with a hate crime in the attack. Under state law, a hate crime occurs when a person selects a victim “because of actual or perceived race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry ...”

A witness, Mykeisha Henderson, has said the assault began with Dickerson teasing the victim about wearing a pink shirt, but she did not recall hearing any remarks from Dickerson about the white man being in the “wrong neighborhood.”