Mum's the Word

Police, Metro, victim reveal no new information or video in hate-crime investigation

by Yusef Najafi
Published on December 20, 2007, 12:00am | Comments

Metro Transit Police have not yet released surveillance video or video images of the seven men who attacked a gay man on the Metro during the early hours of Saturday, Dec. 8, in a mugging that quickly escalated into an apparent hate crime.

According to Nathaniel Salerno, the 25-year-old man from Capitol Hill, who was beaten while riding Metrorail between Dupont Circle and Eastern Market, Metro Transit Police had planned to release the footage to the media by Thursday, Dec. 13, if there were no leads in the investigation.

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, Salerno met with investigators working on the case and said he was ''happy'' with the meeting despite the embargo on images.

''I'm really happy with the detective on the case and I'm just trying to make sure I don't do anything or say anything to impede the investigation or slow down the process, because I really do want the people who did this off the street,'' he said immediately after the meeting, adding that he plans to return to his home state of Texas through the winter holidays.

Capt. Dave Webb of the Metro Transit Police's Criminal Investigation Division, referred questions about Salerno's case to Joanne Ferreira, a spokesperson for Metro, who said as of Dec. 17 there is no new information to report on the incident or investigation.

''The investigation is ongoing and we cannot release any more information about the investigation at this time,'' she said. ''We want to close this case.''

Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is gay, serves as the chair of Metro's Committee on Finance Administration and Oversight and on Metro's Board of Directors as the second vice chairman. During a Metro Board meeting Dec. 13, he prompted a discussion about the attack.

''This [case] raised some very, very serious questions particularly since it was initially reported not as a hate crime, but as an assault,'' Graham said, adding, however, that he was very appreciative of a dialogue he had with Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. following the incident.

''We have now changed the report of this serious matter so that it is categorized as a hate crime.... As a result, the consequences -- once we arrest those who are involved -- will be much greater, and there are other consequences as well,'' Graham said. ''We're still very concerned about protecting our riders and just the thought of being in a railcar alone with seven people attacking you is just extraordinarily freighting to even contemplate. But then to have perhaps a misidentification of the crime subsequent to that of course compounds the whole problem.''

Graham continued to say that the investigation is now on the ''right track,'' and that he hopes the board would consider releasing video footage of the suspects leaving the station.

''I know this is a sensitive area of criminal evidence and all of that, but I hope you will consider releasing the video to the media, to the public, so that people can help identify the folks who committed this horrendous assault on this young man,'' he said.

Elizabeth M. Hewlett, chair of the Metro Board of Directors agreed.

''We have in the past [released surveillance video]. We will with this case and in the future,'' she said.

Salerno was attacked by a group of seven men, appearing in age to be between 16 to 20, who demanded money.

''I feel as though it was originally meant to be a mugging. But because I'm not a super-macho masculine person, as soon as they realized I'm a homosexual, it kind of enraged them even more,'' Salerno said a few days after the attack.

Since the incident, Salerno, whose injuries included cuts and bruises on various parts of his body, says he has returned to work and is recovering from the incident.

''I feel fine,'' Salerno said Dec. 18. ''I heal quickly.''