MOUNT VERNON — When comparing witness statements and supplemental police reports regarding aggravated menacing charges against Dale Klein with interviews by victim Robert Cantu, as well as additional information acquired by the News, several inconsistencies were found regarding an incident many have dubbed a hate crime.
In an interview June 16, Cantu told the News he was assaulted and dragged about 3 feet by a noose around his neck on the night of May 30, 2008. He said several others in the area saw the action, ran off his attackers and then removed the noose from his neck.
Cantu also spoke with other media outlets, stating his attackers made threats on his life, including a threat to hang him on Public Square.
According to Mount Vernon Police Sgt. Mark Perkins’ supplemental report, it was he, not the Cantus, who initiated any kind of report or investigation of the incident, despite Cantu’s claim to have contacted the police the night of the assault.
Perkins’ report stated he spoke with Cantu’s mother, Marcie, on Monday, June 2, 2008, because he “heard about an incident where Robert Cantu was held down and a noose was placed around his neck.”
The report stated Marcie told Perkins “what little she knew of the incident,” because her son did not want to speak to her about what happened. It states Perkins later spoke with Marcie again and requested she bring her son to the police department for an interview, which was scheduled for June 3, four days after the incident.
In Robert’s witness statement, filed with Perkins on June 3, around 5:30 p.m., Cantu said “… Dale is like ‘get the Mexican’ so they grabbed me and held me down and put the noose on me. Donald, Izzy and Ray got them off of me.”
At this point, according to his report, Cantu left the downtown area where he had been assaulted. A short time later he and his friends returned because they heard Klein was in a fight with another boy who Cantu claims Klein tried to assault earlier.
Perkins, according to his report, spent several hours that night investigating the allegations and tracking down witnesses.
At 7:31 p.m., Perkins took a witness statement from Izzy Townsend in which Townsend described the events.
“I approached to greet [Robert] when a man said something to him and started chasing my friend with a noose. When I caught up this man [Dale] had grabbed my friend from behind and was pulling a noose over his head. I ran up and shoved this man telling him to ‘knock it off right now.” The man exchanged an odd look with me and returned to a truck,” Townsend wrote.
Another witness report filed that evening stated, “… Dale Kline grabbed Robert and tried to put the noose around his neck. People pushed Dale off of him before he got it around his neck.” That same witness filed another report seven minutes later in order to fix chronological errors. That report said, “When we got there Dale Kline, and [name withheld] tried to put a noose around Robert’s neck. A kid named Izzy pushed Dale off.”
According to Perkins’ same report, “Izzy told me that Robert was not on the ground. Izzy said that he pushed Dale away from Robert as Dale was trying to place the noose around his neck. Izzy said Dale was acting alone.”
No witness statement taken by Perkins, including Cantu’s, mentions threats on Cantu’s life or hanging on the square.
When asked this morning if it was typical for a police officer to track down potential victims for a statement, MVPD Chief Mike Merrilees said, “sometimes it happens that way.”
“Usually something serious is reported right away,” he said. “The vast majority are heard from victims.”
In information received from the Knox County Prosecutor’s Office, by request of the Freedom of Information Act, three photos tagged as state’s exhibits showed wounds to what appears to be a shoulder, and bruises on a bicep consistent with finger marks. No photos were included of any ligature wounds that would have been a result of being dragged by a noose around a victim’s neck.
In a document acquired by the News, Merrilees creates a timeline in the Cantu investigation. In this document, Merrilees states Klein is spelled two different ways, causing confusion during the investigation, which was handed over to Detective Sgt. Jeff Jacobs in June.
“In reading the current newspaper coverage of the trial I see some information that does not match up with the statements the Mount Vernon Police Department received originally,” the document states.
He went on to clarify five statements were taken from four witnesses “and not one of them says that Cantu was dragged by a truck.”
Merrilees admits the case took longer to investigate than he would like, but said the delay had nothing to do with race or discrimination, that it is more an incomplete case that fell through the cracks.
“I’m not going to say we handled it perfectly, because we didn’t,” he said today.
“I agree that this case should have been put to rest much sooner and could have been handled more efficiently. Nobody should be treated the way Robert Cantu was but to paint the picture that we received a report of what could easily be called attempted murder and ignored it is simply not true,” Merrilees wrote in his timeline.
This morning he told the News he wasn’t making excuses for his department, but wants to correct any future problems with investigations.
“We could improve on how we keep track of incomplete investigations,” he said. “We are looking at that and modifying the procedures to keep things from falling through the cracks.”
The League of United Latin American Citizens of Ohio has organized a Vigil for Justice on Friday at noon on Public Square to “further expose this case and the growing trend of hate crimes in Ohio.”
Merrilees said he expects a peaceful vigil.