FRESNO, Calif. – Four months after Patty Dawson was chased and beaten by three suspects believed to be associated with white supremacists, she faced her alleged attacker, Jennifer Devette Fraser, in court for the first time on October 17.
Fraser – a tall, heavyset woman bearing numerous tattoos on her arms, hands and neck – walked past Dawson and her family outside the courtroom and did not recognize the woman she reportedly viciously attacked on the afternoon of June 14.
But once inside, Fraser suddenly noticed the large contingent of Native Americans seated behind her who were there to support Dawson, a Navajo and Apache nurse and mother, who was assaulted on a Clovis, California highway allegedly by Fraser and two men.
Fraser, 27, sat close to an older man with white hair and long goatee, and would not look at the victim. She was charged under California law with felonious assault, defined as an attack on another individual in which the attacker uses a dangerous weapon and seeks to cause serious harm but stops short of an attempt to kill the victim.
Though she and her male accomplices fled the scene of the crime, eyewitnesses chased them and recorded a license plate number to Fraser’s 1995 green Ford Neon. Fraser was arrested in September and posted bond.
She was released pending another hearing on October 31 where prosecutors expect to have more evidence against Fraser and her accomplices whose names have not been released.
At the preliminary hearing, Fraser wanted charges reduced, but the Dawson family refused to make any deals. Fraser has a record of prior vehicle code violations and was arrested in 2005 driving a car registered to Jayson Pearce, who had more than a dozen incidents with law enforcement, including four arrests. Police records show that Pearce has a KKK tattoo on his right shoulder.
According to law enforcement officials, Fraser’s charges will likely be escalated to federal hate crime charges based on eyewitness accounts and the extensive injuries to Dawson. Under federal law, a hate crime is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
“We want justice and medical treatment for my daughter who suffered a concussion, broken nose, crushed nasal passages, broken ribs, and severe bruising,” said her father, John, who drove from Los Angeles with his wife, Wanda, and daughter Cindy, a social worker.
“She’s also suffering from PTSD and has not received any medical treatment since the attack since she didn’t have insurance. The irony is that she‘s a nurse and the kind of person who is always helping others.”
Dawson was found June 14 unconscious on the street near the intersection of Ashlan and Clovis, and rescued by good Samaritans who called police and chased the attacker’s car.
Speaking tearfully about her assault for the first time, Dawson explained she’d worked a long nursing shift before taking her uncle, Pascal Casey, to the train station in Fresno. She was on her way home when her car was bumped from behind at a stop sign.
Glancing in her rearview mirror, she saw three people in a car and decided not to stop, since she was in Clovis, a town with a reputation for hostile treatment against Indian people and other minorities. As she drove on, the car continued to follow her with Fraser reportedly at the wheel.
“She was driving wildly in and out of traffic, even driving on the right shoulder of the road trying to force me into oncoming traffic,” said Dawson.
“As I try to remember it, it’s like a silent movie. I can see their angry faces screaming at me, spitting at me and making gestures, but I can’t hear it anymore. I knew they wanted to hurt me.”
Shaken and scared, Dawson looked for safety and made a run for an Arco gas station where she thought she’d be safe.
But she didn’t make it.
Only 30 feet from the driveway, she was stopped in traffic for a red light with Fraser’s car behind her when she felt something wet on her arm.
Fraser had spit on her before reaching through an open window and slugging Dawson so hard in the face that she immediately lost consciousness. Dawson does not remember being dragged from her car or the additional beating that caused her other injuries.
She woke up in an emergency room, disoriented and in pain, where she was briefly questioned by a Clovis Sheriff’s officer who allegedly asked what she did to cause the attack.
“There I was bleeding, and I was surprised he asked me what I did to provoke the attack,” she said. “He tried to make it sound like it was road rage and asked if I cut them off in traffic or flipped themoff, like I had done something wrong. I don’t know these people and did absolutely nothing to them.”
Michael Youngblood Konkle, a Maidu from Northern California and former police officer, said Clovis is know as a “sundown town,” where it’s common knowledge that Indians and other people of color were expected to “get out of Dodge before the sun went down or face violence and incarceration.”
“There’s a number of KKK and white supremacists living in the mountains near Indian lands and it’s been a problem for years. But this is out of hand and we have to take a stand to protect our families.”
Konkle also said additional charges need to be filed in the case to help elevate it to federal courts for hate crime prosecution.
“When they hit her car from behind, that’s assault with a deadly weapon. When they pulled her from the car, that’s kidnapping and false imprisonment. There are other charges that may be considered as well.”
Leonard Pine Flower, a young Apache and Yaqui father wearing an AIM T-shirt, said he came to support Dawson because “this hit close to home. These are women and children they are attacking and we won’t tolerate it. She’s a kind woman who does not deserve this.”
Pine Flower is a counselor in a local group home for youth who said he routinely hears about widespread discrimination, bullying and harassment of Native students. In the past, students were told they must cut their hair to play sports in Clovis and Fresno, until someone sued the district.
“I know one student was targeted at school by white boys who threatened to cut off his long hair. When it was reported to school officials, they blew it off and said the boys were just teasing. I don’t think so.”
Three days after Dawson’s attack The Fresno Bee reported, three juveniles were arrested on felony vandalism and hate-crime charges after a “graffiti rampage” where they tagged about 20 homes, cars and fences with swastikas and white-supremacy slogans.
According to local residents, the town of Clovis has a long history of discrimination and racial violence against Indians and other minorities. In the Central Valley where agriculture is a mainstay of the economy, there are many migrant farm workers who complain about attacks but are afraid to go to law enforcement because of their illegal status.
In June 2010 ABC’s San Francisco affiliate reported swastikas were carved into the fence surrounding an African American family’s property.
In December 2010, the City of Clovis approved new policies designed to crack down on white supremacist gangs trying to stake out certain parks in Fresno as new territory, said Clovis Police Cpt. Vince Leonardo. Police now have more power to prevent gang members from loitering in public places and intimidating others as reported by CBS47.tv.
Meanwhile, the California Attorney General’s Native American Affairs section promised to take appropriate action to help press for a full investigation into the crime. They are also requesting assistance from Victim’s Services to help Dawson get medical care and counseling for PTSD and trauma.
“We need to put pressure on the Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth A. Egan to prosecute this as a hate crime, and we hope that people will call and write,” said John Dawson.
Law enforcement is still investigating the crime and requests that anyone with additional information contact the Fresno District Attorney’s Office at (559) 600-3141 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
The financial toll on the Dawson family has been devastating since Dawson could not work for several months. The family lives in a very rural area that saw the addition of running water and electricity as recently as a few years ago.
Cindy Dawson said a fund has been established to help with her sister’s medical expenses. “You can go to any Wells Fargo Bank and ask for the Patty Dawson One Love Fund. We are very thankful for the support and prayers.”
Indian Country Today Media Network’s West Coast Editor Valerie Taliman will cover the next hearing on this case October 31 in Fresno Superior Court.
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