Beaten, robbed, a victim of hate

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH and ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune s taff w riters
  • Updated: September 26, 2009 - 9:45 AM

Charges say white assailants hurled racial epithets as they attacked two black men in Brooklyn Park. .

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Derrick Thomas showed the bruises and cuts inflicted this week in Brooklyn Park in a beating that authorities are treating as a hate crime. A neighbor called 911, and police arrested two suspects as they committed a second assault nearby.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Derrick Thomas was on his bike with home in his sights, returning about 1 a.m. Wednesday from hanging out with his girlfriend and cousin in Brooklyn Park.

Before he knew to be terrified, Thomas, who has autism, found himself flying over his handlebars and writhing on his back on the concrete. Standing over him, he said, were three men armed with an ax, brass knuckles and a gun.

They beat and kicked the 18-year-old while screaming a racial epithet, and they ordered him to strip naked, he told police. Then they robbed him of everything he had, including his Air Jordans, blue jeans and shirt. Police said Thomas has a mental capacity of someone 8 to 10 years old.

"They were saying stuff like, 'We hate the president; we're gonna kill the president, his wife and his kids,'" Thomas recalled from his front stoop Friday, his left eye puffy and discolored. "They said every black person that comes through our park, we're gonna kick their butt. We don't like black people, period."

The assault, and another on a second black man -- Thomas' uncle -- just blocks away, led authorities Friday to file assault and robbery charges against Anthony P. Kilpela and Bryan C. Westerlund, both 21 and both white, of Minneapolis.

"We're incensed," said an angry Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who took the unusual step of calling a news conference about the charges from his living room while he was home ill.

"We will send the message that these kinds of hate crimes are not to be tolerated," Freeman continued. "You do the racial thing, you're gonna do more time, and we've asked for more time."

The alleged comments about the Obamas drew the attention of the Secret Service, whose agents interviewed Thomas on Friday, according to his family.

"We will appropriately investigate, as we do all threats against the president," said John Kirkwood, special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Minneapolis field office. Such threats, Kirkwood said, are felonies.

Third suspect sought

This is not the first time Westerlund has run afoul of the law. According to court records, in two instances on the same night in November 2006, Westerlund implored women from outside their Brooklyn Park bedroom windows to have sex with him -- and thrust one or both hands through the window screens.

When arrested a short time later, he claimed he was drunk. He was convicted of burglary. Also on Westerlund's record is a felony conviction seven months ago in Wright County for terroristic threats.

On a MySpace page, Westerlund brags about drinking and smoking marijuana and declares that BET (Black Entertainment Television) is "the best channel ever ... even though I'm white."

Kilpela's less-serious record includes underage drinking and possession of burglary or theft tools.

A neighbor who heard the screamed epithet Wednesday and witnessed the attack on Thomas called police, then gave the naked Thomas a blanket. The attack happened near 73rd Avenue and Douglas Drive. Police said they came upon the suspects nearby as they beat the second man, and they arrested the pair.

A third suspect remains on the loose, while an 18-year-old woman arrested with the others was released Friday. Authorities said it appeared she was passed out in the suspects' car when the attacks happened.

Kilpela and Westerlund each were charged with two felonies, aggravated first-degree robbery and attempted first-degree robbery, and two gross misdemeanors, fourth-degree assault and attempted fourth-degree assault. Those latter charges address the racial motivation.

"The mere fact that a crime is committed by one race on members of another doesn't make it a hate crime," Freeman said, "but when they use certain words, such as 'keeping our neighborhood clean,' that's a hate crime. You don't use the N-word in casual conversation anymore."

Second attack described

Police came upon the suspects about four blocks from the first beating and found them in the process of assaulting Johnney Robinson, 40. He had been walking home from a bus stop after a few drinks at his brother's home.

In an interview, Robinson said he was nearing home when the men began screaming from the car.

"It was (N-word) this and (N-word) that; I didn't pay no mind," Robinson said. "Suddenly they got out, and one said, '(N-word), I'm gonna cut your head off.'"

Robinson, his left cheek still swollen Friday, said one of the men swung an axe. As he dodged it, he was struck in the face with the brass knuckles. Before he knew what happened police arrived.

"I was gonna do whatever I had to do [to survive]," said Robinson. "I was kind of tipsy. By the time I got hit, I looked around, and the squad pulled up."

Police said a search of the car turned up Thomas' clothing and two empty magazines for a firearm.

Brooklyn Park police Capt. Greg Roehl said that police think the same group of suspects was interrupted earlier that night trying to break into a car. There is no indication of a racial motive in that incident, Roehl said.

Roehl said those arrested were advised of their rights and questioned. He declined to say what was said during those interviews.

Robinson, a father of seven, said the attack left him "angry and scared."

"You got kids in the house and in this neighborhood," he said. "Who knows what could have happened? You might not survive the next one. You may not be lucky at all."

Thomas said he's now afraid to go out, particularly since one of the men is on the loose. But he said it helps that family and friends have rallied around him at the foster home where he lives. Thomas said he'd be more than happy to face the men in court.

"If I come," Thomas said. "I'm bringing my whole family with me."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482 Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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