An apparent road-rage incident in the Marigny neighborhood left a California retiree paralyzed and authorities searching for the man’s attacker — a task that could be complicated by the New Orleans Police Department’s sluggish response to the assault.
Police took 40 minutes to respond to the Oct. 15 attack, and they did not begin a follow-up investigation until 10 days later — delays that might seem eye-popping but that actually are not unusual for the beleaguered department, according to an analysis by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV of five years’ worth of NOPD calls for service.
Doug David, a jazz enthusiast who lives in La Jolla, an affluent section of San Diego, was walking from a bar late that night when he was nearly struck by a vehicle that “blew through a stop sign” at Frenchmen and Decatur streets, Alicia Foulds, David’s niece, said.
“My uncle had a few choice words, I’m sure, and threw a can at the vehicle,” said Foulds, a Rancho Cucamonga, California, resident who came to New Orleans after the Oct. 15 attack to watch over her uncle at University Medical Center.
“Apparently, the gentleman pulled over, (and) got out of the vehicle. What exactly transpired, I don’t know,” she said. “My uncle doesn’t remember.”
Someone apparently called authorities at 11:11 p.m., and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene in less than seven minutes. An EMS report published by the Times of San Diego describes the reason for the call as “fall victim” at 421 Frenchmen St., near the Louisiana Music Factory. The report refers to a witness who said David was assaulted and then fell to the ground.
Foulds’ uncle received spinal-cord injuries that left him paralyzed.
“He does have movement in his shoulders and feeling in his biceps, but past that point, he’s paralyzed,” she said. “He has quadriparesis.”
David, 64, was in the hospital’s intensive care trauma center until Sunday night, Foulds said, when he was transferred to a step-down unit on a different floor.
The incident has raised questions about how long it takes the NOPD to respond to some serious crimes.
Foulds said she did not speak with detectives until late Sunday, 10 days after the incident.
Even when a detective did finally respond to set up a meeting with Foulds and David, he was delayed by hours Sunday after a police commander was shot.
The detective was very apologetic, Foulds said. And when he saw David’s condition, he was shaken.
“The officer was visibly upset by the situation,” she said. “In fact, everyone in the department that I spoke to was shocked that it took so long.”
On the night of the attack, police received a report of a battery and a description of the assailant, said Tyler Gamble, an NOPD spokesman. But by the time an officer arrived at the scene — at 11:49 p.m., almost 40 minutes after the department first received word of the attack — “the officer did not observe an active scene, a victim or any witnesses,” Gamble said.
“At that point, NOPD dispatch called back the reporting person who indicated he was no longer at the scene, and he didn’t see anything more than the victim being attacked,” Gamble said. “At this time, the officer was unaware that the victim had been transported to the hospital. With neither the victim nor witnesses on scene, the incident was marked up ‘unfounded.’ ”
Gamble added that “there was no indication that there was a victim that had been taken to the hospital.”
It is unclear why the NOPD was unaware of that.
Foulds said she began calling for NOPD scrutiny of her uncle’s attack well before she left California on Oct. 19, four days after the incident.
She said she called repeatedly, but no one she spoke with was able to take a report. She said some officers gave her other numbers to call, while others told her to keep calling back.
“Somewhere along the way, they dropped the ball,” Foulds said from the hospital room where she has slept for the past week at her uncle’s side. “I spoke to some people who said they couldn’t help me. I spoke to people who said they had no record of the case but that they would try to send someone. Still, nobody took enough time to actually look into what was happening.”
The lack of police follow-up was perhaps especially troubling given that a reporting witness provided a license plate number for the assailant’s small black vehicle — XQT199 — which was last seen on Frenchmen Street heading toward Esplanade Avenue.
While 40 minutes may sound like a long time for New Orleans police to respond to an attack, that is actually far more rapid than the typical NOPD response to a beating so far this year. In fact, the time it takes for the NOPD to respond to a simple battery has roughly tripled since 2010, from an average of 36 minutes in 2010 to 1 hour and 44 minutes in 2015, according to a New Orleans Advocate/WWL-TV analysis of roughly 2.7 million police dispatch records.
Moreover, it’s also not unusual for crimes that get a slow response to be deemed “unfounded.” The news organizations’ analysis found that the number of incidents classified that way has risen steeply in tandem with increasing response times.
“Unfounded” incidents are not counted in the city’s annual crime statistics and not reported to the FBI. They also typically receive no follow-up investigation.
The Oct. 15 assault was reminiscent of a beating last December that severely injured a Sacramento trial lawyer visiting the city. The lawyer, Bill Callaham, had been walking through the Central Business District after listening to some late-night music in the French Quarter when he was mugged and beaten unconscious by three men.
Callaham, like David a New Orleans aficionado, was attacked for unknown reasons after one of his assailants made a comment he said he ignored.
David was able to speak briefly to a reporter Monday. In a scratchy whisper, he said, “I don’t blame any of what happened (with the police delay) on any one person. I still love New Orleans.”
Foulds said her uncle and the rest of her family are thankful that police seem to be actively investigating the case now.
“They are handling it now, and I’m appreciative of that,” she said. “But this kind of thing can’t keep happening. We don’t want anyone else to go through what my uncle is going through.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.