Race or love gone bad: 15-year-old assaulted in what NAACP says is possible hate crime

| June 19, 2017
The Gardner/Ball family stands with local NAACP officials Delois McKinnley-Eldridge and President Larry Gist.

The Gardner/Ball family stands with local NAACP officials Delois McKinnley-Eldridge and President Larry Gist.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”—Old English proverb

Editor’s note and warning: The following story contains explicit language that can be deemed unsuitable for younger readers. Also, several juvenile names have been shielded to comply with privacy laws dealing with reporting on juveniles who might be involved in a criminal justice proceeding.

NEW HAVEN, Ind.—Having a precious child attacked, injured and left lying somewhere, perhaps for dead, sounds like an unimaginable nightmare. And, imagine, calling out for help and getting no answer. Worse, imagine that dream becoming a horrifying reality as it recently did for two local mothers.

On June 12, Lakysha Gardner and Isolina Ball, sat down with officials from the Fort Wayne Branch of the NAACP to reveal the terrifying tale of the assault and possible attempted lynching of their 15-year-old son Jason Gardner, who, on June 6, was found lying beaten and unconscious beside a creek in New Haven. Parents later reported that the 15-year-old also had marks on his neck that possible could have been rope burns. And, they say, what already was a horrifying tale became even worse.

Once he was conscious and being taken from the scene to the hospital, Jason was able to identify his primary attacker—a young man named L. who had been threatening him in the neighborhood and on social media. But as of that June 12 meeting with the NAACP and repeated calls to and visits with New Haven police officials, the assailant, whose name and address are known by police officials, had not been arrested. Furthermore, the incident went unreported in the media, prompting Lakysha Gardner to post an account of the incident and related pictures on her Facebook page, grabbing the attention of the NAACP.

Given the racial dynamic of the incident—a young black boy attacked allegedly because of his relationship with a neighborhood white girl—local NAACP President Larry Gist said the assault fits the definition of a hate crime. After talking to New Haven police officials and not getting answers as to why no suspect had been arrested or about some possible aberrant behavior of one police officer involved in investigating the June 6 crime and related incidents, Gist said he referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice, which he said now is investigating the case.

According to Jason’s stepmother, Isolina Ball, the trouble started in March when she and Lakysha discovered that Jason had been dating a girl named J., who lives in the same Cedar Woods trailer park as the the Gardner/Ball family (Lakeysha Gardner and Isolina Ball are married). Ball said she and Lakysha met the girl, who told them she was 15 but eventually discovered the girl was only 12.

“My wife and I went over to her house to talk to the parents and tell them we did not approve of him dating her, because of her age,” said Ball. “We thought it went okay.”

Ball said they made their son immediately break off the relationship and placed him on punishment for a month. Lakysha Garner said it wasn’t because he had done something wrong but because they thought he should have been careful to find out more about the girl before getting into a relationship with her.

After his punishment was over, Jason was allowed to play outside again. In late April, with his parents’ permission, he went out to play basketball. Once at the basketball court, however, he was accosted by an adult the Gardners identified as Cory Gerbers, who is J.’s stepfather. While Gerbers apparently had no problem when Jason and J. were seeing each other, Jason’s perceived rejection of the man’s daughter set him off.

“He approached and he called me ‘fake’ for breaking his daughter’s heart. He got in my face and grabbed my arm,” explained Jason. He said the man also told him he would have his two sons “beat the shit out of” Jason.

That’s when Jason broke away from the man and ran to get his parents.

“Me, my wife and oldest son [17-year-old Amari] walked to the Gerbers’ house to see what had happened,” said Ball.

She said when they arrived to talk about the incident, Gerbers was drunk and told them their son Jason was “a fake ass nigga bitch” who “broke my daughter’s heart”—the more explicit language he had used earlier which Jason was hesitant to repeat due to his mothers’ prohibition against children swearing. Gerbers then told them to “get the fuck of my porch.”

According to Ball, Gerbers swung at Lakysha Gardner but missed and instead hit Ball in the face. Ball said she retaliated and hit Gerbers in the mouth and she and her family went back to their own home.

Soon after, Ball said, four New Haven police officers came to their house asked for Amari. She said they asked their 17-year-old son if he had hit J.’s father and he said no, but checked his hands for signs of a fight. Ball said she stepped in and told the officers “I did” and showed the the tooth mark on her had she received when she hit Gerbers in the mouth.

The family was also stunned that one officer told the others, “Watch them so they don’t run.”

“Run?” asked Lakysha Gardner. “I’m at home.”

“So me and my wife sat on the porch,” added Ball.

Garner and Ball said officers ended up telling them to stay away from the Gerbers family. They said he said he was telling the Gerbers the same thing.

They said sympathetic neighbors were listening and offered to help keep a watch on their children safe if anything were to happen.

“They said, ‘you keep your kids outside and we’ll keep an eye on them,’” explained Ball.

Unfortunately, she said, that wasn’t the end of it.

“Shortly after that was when things started happening,” said Ball.

Gardner and Ball recounted numerous incidents when J. and her brothers rode by on bikes yelling bikes yelling the N-word. One particular time, Gardner said J. came by standing up on the back of a bike a boy was pedaling and twirling a knife and hold a cell phone.

“The boy kept asking, “Is that the house?’ and she said ‘yes,’” said Gardner.

She said neighbors also witnessed the incident which prompted Gardner to call the police who came out and said they would talk to her parents. Meanwhile, Gardner said she had been complying with the police officers’ request that she keep her children on the block in which they lived.

The Gardner/Ball family said they experienced similar harassment the following week, which they reported not only to the police but also to the trailer park manager, Lisa, who she said told them the Gerbers would be evicted if they broke any trailer park rules such as harassing people.

The situation grew even more tense when Gardner said she was had just come from the grocery store and was sitting in her car when two young girls who attend New Haven High School approached her and told her a boy name L., who reportedly is the godson of Gerbers, was upset about altercation.

“They said, he was coming for Jason and coming for Amari,” said Gardner. “They said the father claimed Amari hit him. He said he is going to beat the hell out of Jason.

“I called police and I made a police report because I don’t know this young man I don’t even know how he looks,” said Gardner.

She said, the girls stopped again on a subsequent day to tell her L. had issued another threat. One girl said, “L. is texting me and is talking about shooting up your house and told me to sleep on the floor for the next couple of nights.”

She said the girl showed her copies of the message of which she said police took screen shots. Gardner said she asked police for a copy of the report or at least a control number.

“The officer at that point said he was going to leave and go talk to some parents and he was going to bring me back a control number. He didn’t,” said Gardner.

Again, Gardner said she went to the park manager to tell her the situation was growing very serious. She said she also pleaded with police to do something. She said she also was getting frustrated because she felt she and her family had complied with what law enforcement authorities had asked her to do but were still being harassed. Finally, she called the police again.

“I asked the officer, ‘help me. We are abiding by what you said. We did what were supposed to do,’” explained Gardner.

Had did what they were supposed to do.

She also was feeling guilty keeping her son so close to the house like a prisoner. So, she decided to let him venture out a bit further to play basketball and relax a bit.

“But he just didn’t come home,” said Gardner. “The next time I saw my baby, he was in a ditch by the creek and he wasn’t moving, he wasting talking, his eyes weren’t open. He wasn’t even conscious.”

Jason tells this story about what happened to him that evening:

“My mom said I could go outside. I went to the back to play basketball with my friend and he was with his girl friend,” said Jason.

As he was leaving, he said L., J.’s brother a third boy approached him and said, “Your girlfriend [J.] is at the creek crying. You need to go help her.”

Jason said he headed down the embankment toward the creek and called out her name but got no response.

“When I turned around, I was hit. They kept hitting and stomping me calling me the N-word and telling me I need to go back to Africa. They said, ‘Your mom is next,’” said Jason.

Although he tried to defend himself, Jason ended up losing consciousness.

Meanwhile, Lakysha Gardner had gotten worried. A self-described “strict parent,” she was concerned that it was about 10:50 p.m., and her son, whom she told to be home by 10 p.m. had not arrived. She and others including neighbors went to look for him. That’s when someone discovered Jason unconscious by the creek. Lakysha Gardner said the scene was frantic.

“People were calling 911. Some of my neighbors told me, ‘Lakysha, it’s okay, he’s breathing, he’s breathing!”

“I told my oldest son to go to the front to wave the police down to show them where we were. He went to with my neighborh who is Caucasian,” said Gardner.

Rescue workers soon arrived and were trying to get to get to Jason to treat him and move him to the ambulance. She said the embankment was so steep, rescue worker had to rig a cable to get down without falling and to pull up the stretcher on which they placed him.

Yet, there was more drama to unfold.

“While they were doing that, one of my neighbors said, ‘You know, they got your other son in that [squad] car taking him away,’” said Gardner, who immediately ran to front to see what was going on.

Gardner said she asked an African American officer on the scene why they were taking her son away. She said the officer told her to calm down just as another policeman entered the fray.

“Officer Anderson walked dead in my face and said, ‘Shut the f—- up, because you’re next,” explained Gardner.

Before she could say anything, a white female neighbor clasped her hand over Garner’s mouth and told her not to say anything else to avoid getting jumped on by the officer.

“She said, ‘I’m a white woman. I’ll get your son but you have one right here who needs you,’” said Gardner.

She said she went back to see what was happening with Jason and the rescue workers.

During the rescue effort, Jason had regained consciousness and although he wasn’t able to speak, he identified his primary assailant for police officers. As they were putting him in the ambulance, police, apparently aware of the previous threats, told him to blink if L. was his attacker. Jason said he did blink to confirm that fact.

As Gardner was preparing to accompany her son to the hospital in the ambulance, New Haven police officials told her they needed her to stay on the scene to provide them with additional information. During that time, she also learned that her oldest son, Amari, initially had been put in the back of another police car as a possible “suspect.” Gardner’s neighbor, who accompanied him out front to flag down rescue workers, said he tried to explain that Amari was the victim’s brother but the officer told him to “get the fuck on.” Her neighbor said he held his hands out and told the officer, “then you’re going to have to lock me up too.” (The neighbor supplied a written statement detailing the same. He said police did not detain him.)

In the aftermath, emergency room personnel evaluated Jason as having multiple abrasions and multiple sized contusions as the result of a battery. He also had a footprint on his torso.

That same night, Lakysha Gardner, who is epileptic, suffered a seizure, possibly brought on by the stress of the situation.

To add insult to injury, she said she visited police the next day to see if L. had been arrested and was told the case would be sent to the Allen County Prosecutor but it could take “three or four weeks” before anything was done.

Furthermore, Gardner and Ball said that when they went to get copies of police reports, no paperwork could be found for most of the dates they called, including the first call the made on April 24 about the incident between Gerbers and their son.

While Gardner said some teenagers still posting threatening messages, she is more worried about Officer Anderson, with whom the family has had other run-ins—including a peeping tom incident that neighbors said appeared to be perpetrated by J.’s brother. Gardner said she caught someone peeking in and called the police. She and others even chased the peeping tom and saw him run into the Gerbers’ home. She said neighbors described the suspect and said they had seen him hanging around the the Gardner/Bell home but Anderson refused to act on the incident.

“I think I am more afraid of him than these teenagers,” said Gardner.

Frustrated with what they perceive as a lack of movement and even cover up on the assault on their son and other issues with police in New Haven as well as the lack of publicity the last incident received, Gardner and Ball took to Facebook to tell their story. Their post eventually attracted the attention of the NAACP, which prompted President Gist to begin an investigation into the incident and to call the U.S. Department of Justice to look into what he says is, in his opinion, clearly a hate crime. Gist bases that partly on the fact that a rope was found at the scene where Jason was attacked some days after the assault and that Jason had marks on the back of his neck that his mother and others said could have been caused by a rope. Social media posts by the alleged assailant L. seem to admit to the attack but deny any lynching attempt.

Gardner produced a screenshot of a posting purportedly by L. which reads:

“Y’all tripping it’s a fucking tan line. Ain’t’ no one tried to hang him.  We just taught him a fucking lesson.”

In the wake of the attack, a number of protests have been planned. While Ball and Gardner are encouraged and welcome as much help as they can get, the want everyone to remain calm and level-headed.

“I’m angry,” said Gardner. “We’re going to fight it but we’re going to fight this with peace. I’m encouraging anyone who wants to help this family to fight with only peace.”

See related article on comments from New Haven Police Chief Henry D. McKinnon.

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Category: Civil Rights, Community, Crime & Safety, Local

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