A Southern University student was punched and choked by a man and bitten by a dog in early December as she and her friend, also a student, were attacked and showered with racial insults while trying to secure a lease at a Tigerland apartment, the students said Thursday.
An assistant manager of the Courtyard Orleans Apartments on Tigerland Avenue and her husband attacked the students, Demonya Williams and her friend Jasmine Edwards, after a dispute about a lease agreement escalated, according to a police report and a lawsuit filed Thursday in the 19th Judicial District Court.
At a news conference Thursday, Williams, a 23-year-old accounting and broadcasting senior at Southern, said she was punched in the face and choked by the assistant manager’s husband, Christopher Rayborn, 29, after Williams began recording him with her cellphone.
Soon after the dispute turned physical, Rayborn’s wife, Kortney Rayborn, 25, armed herself with a handgun and directed her pet pit bull to attack the students, according to a Baton Rouge police report.
The students escaped the struggle with the help of two men passing by who intervened, said Chris Stewart, one of the attorneys representing the students in the lawsuit against the Rayborns and companies that own and manage the apartment complex.
“This was literally what happened to people in the ’60s in Alabama: guns, dogs and attacks,” Stewart said during the news conference, in which he made several references to the racially fueled violence in Selma, Alabama, and elsewhere in the South that occurred in the 1960s and throughout the civil rights movement.
“This is one of the most heinous situations that we’ve seen in all the litigation we do,” said Stewart, flanked by partners from his Atlanta-based law firm and several New Orleans attorneys also working on the case.
When reached by phone on Thursday, Christopher Rayborn declined to comment without first speaking to his attorney, A. Hays Town III. Town, who is representing both Rayborns, declined comment, citing the pending litigation.
Attempts to reach Kortney Rayborn also were unsuccessful. A woman who answered the phone at the apartment complex said a manager wasn’t available and that Kortney Rayborn no longer worked there.
According to the lawsuit and the students’ account of the incident, the attack, which occurred on the morning of Dec. 5, spawned from a disagreement between the students and Kortney Rayborn. The students arrived at the apartment complex’s leasing office to formally finish up their lease application, the students said.
The students said they previously spoke to a different apartment complex employee, not Kortney Rayborn, to make arrangements for the lease. The students even paid an application fee prior to their arrival that morning, they said.
But when they arrived at the leasing office Dec. 5, the employee they originally spoke to was not there. Instead, they met with Kortney Rayborn, the assistant manager, and she told them she could not find any records regarding their lease application. The students tried to ask questions but were treated rudely, according to the lawsuit, and soon asked to speak to Kortney Rayborn’s manager.
That’s when Kortney Rayborn told the students to leave, the lawsuit says.
As the students walked to their car, though, they saw a man snapping photographs of the car and its license plate. When they asked what he was doing, the man told them he was Kortney Rayborn’s husband, and he soon became irate, the suit says.
He allegedly hurled racially charged curse words at the students and told them in profanity-laced language to leave, according to the suit. In response, Williams pulled out her cellphone and begin recording him.
She followed Christopher Rayborn into the leasing office while filming him and asked him to repeat the racial slur he had just called the two women, at which point the footage shows Christopher Rayborn make a quick movement with his left hand just off the screen.
The phone went flying and the screen went black. But the audio kept recording.
Screams, profanity and other sounds of distress can be heard as the students appear, from the audio recording, to be fighting off the attack.
After the chaos died down, Williams can be heard looking for her phone. When she found it, the recording ended.
“It was very scary,” said Edwards, 22, a junior at Southern. “It was very confusing. I was just mostly afraid he was going to kill my friend.”
Once the students escaped, they called police. Officers soon arrived and arrested the Rayborns.
Kortney Rayborn was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on counts of aggravated assault and second-degree battery. She posted $2,500 bail and was released on Dec. 6, court records show.
Police booked Christopher Rayborn on a count of simple battery. He posted $3,500 bail on Dec. 9 and was released, court records show.
The case is still pending in court.
A review of court records showed that the incident at the apartment complex wasn’t the first time Christopher Rayborn was accused of yelling racial insults at a black person, nor was it the first time he’s been accused of violence.
In one of two petitions for a protective order filed in 2013 by Kortney Rayborn, she said her husband followed her and her friend around town one day in April 2013 until he accosted them in a parking lot outside a discount store.
According to Kortney Rayborn’s statement in the petition, her husband accused her of infidelity with a black store employee and referred to the employee, who was standing nearby, using a racial slur.
“I tried to talk to him and asked him to please go home,” she wrote. “He pushed me out of his way and then pulled a razor blade out of his pocket and began walking towards the (store) employee.”
Instead of attacking the employee, though, Christopher Rayborn allegedly backhanded his wife, knocking off her glasses. When she tried to pick them up, he stomped on them, the petition says.
He eventually left, and the petition states Kortney Rayborn was having her husband’s name removed from their lease. It wasn’t the only time he attacked her, she wrote.
Christopher Rayborn was previously arrested on several occasions on counts of domestic abuse battery and violating protective orders, court records show.
Both the April petition and another filed in December 2013 by Kortney Rayborn eventually were dismissed after she failed to show up for court appearances, court records show.
In addition to the Rayborns, the other defendants named in the civil lawsuit filed Thursday were the Foundation of Courtyard Orleans LLC, which owns the apartment complex; Multifamily Management Inc., which manages the complex; and the companies’ respective insurance representatives.
An attorney for Multifamily Management Inc. said through a spokeswoman that the company would not comment on pending litigation. An attorney for the Foundation of Courtyard Orleans said he received a letter about the suit but did not know any details about the allegations.
Edwards and Williams, the two girls who spoke publicly about the incident, said it haunts them.
“I have random nightmares sometimes,” Edwards said as she cried.
Williams, speaking after her friend, said that going back to school for the spring semester will be tough. Although she will be working toward graduating, she won’t forget the attack.
“All I know is I cry about it all the time,” Williams said.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.