A white St. Francisville man testified Tuesday that Donald Ray Dickerson, a black convicted felon, shoved him for no apparent reason at a north Baton Rouge gas station on Mother’s Day 2013 and told him he was in the “wrong neighborhood” before knocking him unconscious while his wife and two young daughters looked on in horror.
David Ray III testified he and his family had spent a perfect Mother’s Day in Baton Rouge and were on their way back to their St. Francisville home that night when he stopped for gas at Stadium Chevron on Scenic Highway at the foot of Plank Road.
Ray said he was waiting in line at the station’s window when Dickerson, 43, of Baton Rouge, shoved him from the side and threatened him.
“That’s when he tells me I’m in the wrong neighborhood. I said I was trying to get gas to get home. He said, ‘You’re not going to make it out of here,’ ” Ray said from the witness stand on the opening day of Dickerson’s second-degree battery trial.
“Next thing I know, I’m laying on the ground and my wife is passed out next to me. My kids are screaming and crying,” Ray testified.
His testimony painted a starkly different version of events than that given by one of Dickerson’s attorneys during opening statements of the trial earlier Tuesday.
The attorney, Shalita Sanders, told jurors that skin color had nothing to do with the May 12, 2013, altercation.
“Mr. Dickerson didn’t go to that gas station intending to pick on anybody,” she said.
Ray, according to a supplemental police report, told an officer from his hospital bed that his assailant called him a “white boy.”
But Sanders said in her opening statement that her client did not target Ray that night and that a comment about the pink shirt Ray was wearing apparently triggered the altercation.
“He’s not the malicious person they want you to believe he is,” she said of Dickerson.
Ray testified he could not recall Dickerson commenting about his pink shirt.
Attorney Bernard Blair, who also represents Dickerson, questioned why other witnesses reported hearing a reference to a pink shirt and why only Ray reported hearing Dickerson make the “wrong neighborhood” comment.
“It is because he wears dreadlocks and he’s black?” Blair asked Ray.
“I should have the right to stop at any gas station and not be in the ‘wrong neighborhood,’ ” Ray replied.
Earlier, Blair asked why Baton Rouge police officer Joseph Nealond never inquired whether Ray became the aggressor at some point during the altercation.
“You never cared about the truth!” Blair shouted to Nealond, calling the police investigation “one-sided.”
Ray suffered facial fractures, a broken nose and eye socket, a concussion, and bruises and cuts to his face and skull, according to a lawsuit he later filed against Stadium Chevron and Dickerson.
Prosecutor Barry Fontenot showed the six-person jury and one alternate juror a photograph of Dickerson after his arrest that showed no markings on his face.
Ray’s wife, Angela Ray, testified Tuesday that her husband’s eyes were already swollen shut by the time she rushed from their vehicle to his side. Even though she watched Dickerson punch her husband, Angela Ray said Dickerson told her he had nothing to do with it.
Angela Ray said she does not know who knocked her to the ground.
“I was holding my husband and everything goes black,” she said.
Fontenot told the jury that Dickerson instigated the altercation “for whatever reason” and that Ray unsuccessfully tried to defend himself.
“This is not a complicated case. It’s about as straightforward as it can get. It’s about a guy who decided to be a bully that night,” Fontenot said.
Sanders charged that Ray became the aggressor after the altercation had been broken up. Ray, she said, asked Dickerson if he felt intimidated by someone in a pink shirt.
“He was actively engaging in the situation,” she said of Ray.
The trial will resume Wednesday in state District Judge Lou Daniel’s courtroom.
Neither state nor federal authorities lodged hate-crime charges against Dickerson. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said the Ray family did not want to pursue such charges. Moore also said Dickerson faces a much stiffer sentence under Louisiana’s habitual offender law if he is convicted in the Ray case.
With prior convictions for armed robbery, carnal knowledge of a juvenile and purse snatching, Dickerson could be sentenced to life in prison if he’s found guilty of second-degree battery.
Two other suspects with Dickerson that night — Devin Bessye and Ashley Simmons — allegedly struck Ray’s wife and eldest daughter, but they were issued summonses for simple battery, a misdemeanor.
Police Chief Carl Dabadie has said the officers who decided not to book Bessye and Simmons into Parish Prison were counseled for an error in judgment.