By Stan Santos
On June 14, the Committee for Justice for Patty Dawson gathered for a press conference regarding the violent hate crime committed exactly one year ago in Clovis. Members of the committee reviewed press packets and waited for the establishment media. Patty, her husband, spokesperson Gloria Hernandez and a dozen or so supporters, including the Brown Berets and Warrior Woman, were present.
Amid the tension and anticipation, we heard the beats of a drum song, joined by a chorus of Native American voices. As passersby paused to look, including several sheriff’s officers, there were the intonations of a familiar song and we felt a calm come over us. It was the Eagle Song, a rhythmic incantation of four repeated verses that gently rise in strength and volume. It is a powerful Sweat Lodge song meant to lift our spirits.
On June 14, 2011, Dawson, who is Navajo and San Carlos Apache, was traveling through the northeast Fresno neighborhood of Tarpey Village. It was meant to be a short trip but has now become the journey of her life. She was the victim of an unprovoked attack by two or more persons who bumped her car, spit and hurled obscenities at her and eventually left her lying unconscious, bloodied and with shattered bones on the asphalt near a gas station at Ashlan and Clovis avenues.
The individuals who attacked Dawson are suspected of having connections to neo-Nazi, KKK and similar hate groups and/or beliefs. The principal assailant, Jennifer Fraser, has admitted to attacking Dawson, claiming as her defense an unstable childhood with underlying issues of abuse.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office was incompetent in its initial investigation, failing to follow basic, timely investigative procedures including the following:
- Canvassing of surrounding homes for witness statements.
- Prompt acquisition of security camera video before it was erased.
- Thorough reconstruction of the events including background checks and affiliations of all the individuals involved.
- Swift arrest once the assailant was identified.
- Cultural sensitivity and basic human compassion for the victim.
The district attorney also demonstrated incompetence in this case based on the following:
- Hate crimes charges were dismissed out of hand.
- The district attorney admitted the likelihood of a plea bargain and a reduced sentence.
- When Dawson asked the reason for the plea bargain, a senior deputy district attorney informed her that the DA’s office lacked the resources to adequately investigate the case.
- Postponements have occurred for a variety of reasons, including Fraser’s claim of Native American heritage, her child’s birth, an “overworked” Public Defender who did not have sufficient time to prepare for the case, and a change in representation.
During one of the preliminary hearings, a judge in the case reacted in a prejudicial manner to the presence of Dawson’s supporters in the courtroom, calling for the Fraser case so “we can get these bodies out here.” The committee sent a written complaint to the presiding judge, with no response to date.
Fraser’s father issued a rambling handwritten letter that basically confirmed the allegations with statements such as follows: “There in front of them was a girl going approx. 5 miles an hour…They tried to past even on a double yellow line. They tried to past on the right illegally, but they were pissed off…” His letter concluded with, “Jennifer actually thought the woman was Mexican. not Indian. Which had nothing to do with the fight. If this girl would have won the fight, would all this “be happening!?”
When someone unfamiliar with Dawson meets her, it is obvious that this account clashes with reality. She is 5’2” tall, of average build and soft-spoken with a gentle demeanor. Fraser is 5’6” tall and of a considerably heavier build. Fraser exhibited no signs of having been involved in anything that could be considered “mutual combat.”
A year has passed from the date of the incident, and Dawson is recovering, although some scars are too deep and the images will never be forgotten. She continues to work part-time as an LVN for special needs students but has missed numerous days between healing and attending court. Instead of closure, she faces lengthy proceedings and an uphill legal battle mired in maneuvers and delays.
Will she win justice, or will the crime committed against her simply result in a slap on the wrist for one of her assailants? Will Patty receive any form of restitution for the loss of income, ongoing medical expenses and emotional damage she has suffered? How many more innocent travelers and people of color will be attacked and brutalized by racist hate groups in the Fresno and Clovis communities? Dawson smiles with a spiritual strength and conviction that something must be done.
A settlement conference is set for July 12 and a jury trial for July 23. The Committee for Justice for Patty Dawson invites the community to show their support. For more information, contact Gloria Hernandez at 559-250-2434 or email@example.com.
Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.