15 arrested following downtown Silver Spring assault
Teens attack pedestrian, inflicting facial fractures
Fifteen people were arrested Monday evening after a group of teenagers harassing pedestrians in downtown Silver Spring slammed one man to the ground, breaking his face and drawing the attention of several eyewitnesses.
The incident occurred just after 7 p.m. Monday on a Fenton Street sidewalk, near the intersection with Ellsworth Drive and just outside the perimeter of the newly opened Veterans Plaza. After late-afternoon showers gave way to sunshine, dozens of pedestrians milled about the downtown area, including a group of 15 men and women described as being in their late teens and early 20s, according to witnesses.
One man from that group was approaching random pedestrians as they walked by the outdoor eating area outside the Baja Fresh restaurant. About 15 different people were accosted by the man, who was standing inches from the victims' faces and "verbally harassing" and "making crazy sexual comments" to passersby, said Chris Wilhelm, a Silver Spring resident who was reading a book nearby.
"It was something building, like a volcano about to erupt," said T. Hill, a Takoma, D.C., resident who was parallel parking his car on Fenton Street at the time of the incident.
One middle-aged man tried to ignore the teens and walk past them, but as he walked toward the intersection of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue, the teen who was accosting pedestrians slapped the man in the back of the head, Wilhelm said. When the man turned around and showed his frustration, at least one other member of the group punched or hit him in the side of the head, according to witnesses and Montgomery County Police.
The man fell, and his head slammed against the red brick sidewalk.
"The sound I heard was like a brain getting crushed," said Silver Spring resident Jane Gorbaty, who witnessed the incident as she was walking to the newly opened Silver Spring Civic Building for a meeting and immediately called 911.
Wilhelm said several witnesses rushed over to the victimhis friend began scuffling with one of the attackersand the group fled toward Wayne Avenue.
Police arrived within 10 minutes, Hill said. The man suffered fractured facial bones and was in serious but non-life-threatening condition at Holy Cross Hospital, said Cpl. Dan Friz, a Montgomery County Police spokesman. He did not know if the man had been released from the hospital as of Tuesday morning.
Police arrested 15 people and three were charged with first-degree assault, although their identities are not yet available, Friz said. The other suspects were charged with disorderly conduct, Friz said.
The civic building and Veterans Plaza opened Thursday evening with much celebration, but the incident Monday forced Silver Spring Regional Services Center Director Reemberto Rodriguez to explain the security of the plaza to residentsabout 30 of whom had gathered in the civic building for a scheduled Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board meeting.
The area of the sidewalk where Monday's assault occurred is public property, just between the county-owned Veterans Plaza and the Silver Plaza on Ellsworth Drive, which is a public street managed by a private company, Peterson Cos., with its own security team.
The same security that mans the civic building also patrols the plaza, Rodriguez said. The Silver Spring Regional Services Center recently moved its offices into the civic building. Security cameras mounted on the exterior of the building also overlook the plaza, Rodriguez said. One security guard was on duty Monday night, Rodriguez said.
Peterson security did respond to the incident but is not responsible for patrolling the Fenton Street sidewalk, said Jennifer Nettles, manager of Downtown Silver Spring for Peterson Cos. Downtown Silver Spring security cameras may have caught the incident, Nettles said.
Nettles said Monday's incident was the most violent near that intersection since March 2009, when a large fight broke out after a youth "Stop the Violence" concert. Seventy-five police officers and private security officers responded and 35 people, about half of whom were adults, were arrested or cited for offenses including assault and disorderly conduct.
Friz said Metro Transit Police responded about 11:52 p.m. Saturday night to an unrelated incident outside the Majestic Theater, also at the corner of Fenton and Ellsworth. Several arrests were made in that incident and a handgun was recovered, Friz said. Metro Transit Police did not immediately return calls seeking further details Tuesday morning.
The Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, a residents group that advises the county government on issues including public safety, was meeting in the civic building just a few hundred feet away at the time of Monday's assault, with County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring in attendance. When told of the incident, Ervin vowed to arrange a meeting with Peterson Cos., county police and county government employees operating the civic building and plaza to make sure all groups cooperate to secure the new plaza area, which replaced the popular artificial turf field.
For Hill, who said he frequently walks from his home to downtown Silver Spring, that meeting may be occurring too late. His sense of safety is already lost.
"I've never seen anything remotely close to this," Hill said. "... I'm not going to come here again or walk here again if these punks are harassing people."