Man beaten in racially charged incident files suit

A man beaten unconscious in May after he stopped for gas in north Baton Rouge filed a lawsuit against Stadium Chevron, claiming the gas station failed to provide security at night in a neighborhood long plagued by violent crime.

The business, which sits on Scenic Highway at the foot of Plank Road, has been a frequent crime scene in recent years, including at least two fatal shootings since 2002 that remain unsolved.

The lawsuit, filed by St. Francisville resident David Ray and his family in 19th Judicial District Court, claims management was negligent in failing to warn customers of “the inherent dangers of patronizing” the gas station.

Also named as a defendant is Donald Ray Dickerson, the ex-convict who faces up to life in prison if convicted as a habitual offender in the attack.

Melvin George, the owner of the station, said Monday there’s nothing he would have done differently in the way of security and declined further comment.

Ray’s attorney, Michael C. Palmintier, did not return messages seeking comment.

The litigation stems from a racially charged assault that generated outrage in Baton Rouge and prompted calls for Dickerson to be charged with a hate crime.

Ray, 42, had been on his way to get something to eat with his family when they stopped at the Chevron after dark.

Ray’s 15-year-old daughter told police and FBI officials she was worried about her father as he waited to pay because there were a lot of people at the window. She said Dickerson cut in front of her dad and began arguing with him.

Dickerson told Ray he was “in the wrong neighborhood and he was not going to make it out,” according to court records.

Ray later told an officer from his hospital bed his assailant had addressed him as “white boy,” according to supplemental police reports.

Ray was severely beaten in the attack, suffering facial fractures, a broken nose, a broken eye socket, a concussion and bruises and cuts to his face and skull, the lawsuit claims.

Ray’s wife ran toward her husband and recalled falling to the ground and being knocked unconscious, according to police.

The lawsuit says she received “severe personal injuries,” including contusions and lacerations to the face.

Baton Rouge police cited two co-defendants, Devin Bessye and Ashley Simmons, for allegedly striking Ray’s wife and daughter.

Instead of being booked into Parish Prison like Dickerson, they both were issued summonses for simple battery, a move Police Chief Carl Dabadie called an “error in judgment.”

The attack prompted local and federal investigations as officials probed whether it was racially motivated.

Bernard Blair, of New Orleans, an attorney for Dickerson, said at his arraignment this summer the incident stemmed from a “misunderstanding,” adding his client “doesn’t hate anybody.”

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Ray and his family did not want Dickerson to be charged with a hate crime.

Instead, Moore has said he will seek to prosecute Dickerson under the state’s habitual offender law, which could subject him to a sentence of up to life in prison due to his violent criminal history.

Dickerson recently had been released from federal prison at the time of the attack and was previously convicted of purse snatching, carnal knowledge of a juvenile and armed robbery. Prosecutors also have charged him with failing to register as a sex offender.

While much of the public uproar stemmed from the racial overtones of the beating, the history of violence at the gas station has been largely overlooked.

The same gas station was sued for wrongful death about 10 years ago after the fatal shooting of Christopher K. Hamlin, 25, who died in a hail of gunfire while pouring oil into his vehicle.

Surveillance footage of the shooting showed a car pulling into the parking lot at around 4:30 a.m. A man wielding an assault rifle emerged from the passenger side of the vehicle and unloaded 18 rounds, striking Hamlin several times.

The assailant left with Hamlin lying in front of his vehicle.

Hamlin had been out partying on the night of his death and gotten into a fistfight, according to court records. His slaying remains unsolved.

Though no arrests were made, Hamlin’s family filed a civil suit accusing the gas station of negligence.

Judge Janice Clark dismissed the case, and her findings were affirmed by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.

The appellate court held that business owners owe customers a reasonably safe place and must exercise “reasonable care” to protect them from harm from employees and third parties.

But, the panel added, “there is generally no duty to protect others from the criminal acts of those parties.”

“This duty only arises,” the court held, “when the criminal act in question was reasonably foreseeable to the owner of the business.”

In November 2006, the gas station was the site of another fatal shooting when Nedrick Dent, 38, was killed during an argument near the fuel pumps. That case also has not been solved, police said.