Noe Valley Voice February 1999

Two Women Robbed at Gunpoint

By Denise Minor

Dr. Julie Lustig and her friend had just spent a pleasant evening over dinner in one of their favorite restaurants. At about 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 7, they left Bacco on Diamond Street and turned onto 24th Street to stroll home and talk more about an upcoming vacation.

Suddenly, the women heard someone close behind them. They turned, and about two feet away, pointing a gun at them, stood a teenager who said in a calm voice, "Just give me your bags."

Lustig handed him her purse, and the other woman turned over her backpack. "Now turn around and walk away. Don't look back," he said.

They did as they were told, and walked straight to Hamano Sushi on Castro Street, where they called the police. The incident left Lustig shaken. "I'm more cautious and more fearful. And I'm less likely to go out alone," said Lustig.

The next day, someone found both bags and their contents -- except the money -- scattered on a lawn on Cesar Chavez Street. Lustig lost only a few dollars, but her friend, who prefers not to have her name in print, had just withdrawn $300 from the bank to take with her on vacation the following day.

"It's ironic," said Lustig. "She had more money on her than she ever would carry normally."

But the main thing she tries to keep in mind is that neither of them was hurt physically. "We did what he said, and everything was fine," Lustig said.

Still, she decided to contact the Voice a few days later, to warn her neighbors to be on the alert when walking after dark in the neighborhood.

Lustig judged her assailant to be about 15 or 16 years old. He was a short, slim African American, with dark skin and no facial hair. He wore jeans, tennis shoes, a jacket, and a shirt that appeared to be plaid. One of the things that struck Lustig was how calm he was.

Lustig, an adolescent medicine specialist at a city hospital, has run the event over and over in her head and wondered what she could have done to prevent it.

"Should I have driven? I probably would have parked further away than a block, and this occurred just a block from the restaurant," she said.

"I wasn't alone. I was coming out of a restaurant in my own neighborhood with someone, and it wasn't very late," she continued. "It's hard to know what I could have done differently."

Officer Ray Austin of Mission Station said that it sounds to him as if Lustig and her friend did nothing wrong. "They did what they needed to do to not get hurt. That's the important thing," he said.

Austin said he has two pieces of advice for people who find themselves being held up at gunpoint. First of all, "Cooperate. Don't give an attitude," he stresses.

Secondly, to help find the assailant and possibly prevent that person from robbing other people, concentrate on memorizing every detail about his or her appearance and demeanor.

"Get a head-to-toe description of what they look like, what they're wearing," he said. "Remember, you might have to identify him in a lineup."

When Lustig called police the day after the robbery to report that most of her belongings had been found, she was disappointed to learn that the police were not launching an investigation of her case. Austin explained that the police don't usually assign an inspector unless they have something distinctive to go on.

"If it's a white male in his 30s with brown hair and wearing dark clothing, well that description fits just too many people," said Austin. But if he has a tattoo, or a distinctive way of talking, or the victim sees the car he's driving, those types of details could give the police enough to start an investigation.

But Lustig's wasn't the only disturbing holdup that occurred recently in the neighborhood. Noe Valley beat officer Lois Perillo reports (see Police Beat, page 9) that on Dec. 19 a woman getting out of her car near Diamond and Alvarado streets was accosted by a man who appeared to be around 20. He asked for her purse, and when she screamed, he hit her on the head with a metal object and snatched her bag. He then jumped in a red two-door car and sped away.

"Any kind of violence or gun-brandishing is extremely unsettling," Officer Perillo said, when asked about the two cases. (Both suspects are still at large.)

But the recent incidents don't necessarily indicate a rise in violent crime in Noe Valley.

"We generally have about two [reported robberies] a month. Sometimes there are four, but sometimes there's only one, like in November. So at this point, there's no evidence of an increase. We'll have to keep looking, though, to see if a trend surfaces," Perillo said.

She also wanted to reassure Lustig and other local residents that the police are constantly checking for patterns.

"We are always reviewing the cases to see if it matches or parallels other cases," she said. Perillo added that she had read over Lustig and her friend's report and had noted a few clues about the robber that might lead to an arrest in the future.

Meanwhile, Paolo Dominici, manager of Bacco Ristorante, was very disturbed to learn in late January about the holdup of his customers. "I didn't know anything about this, no one told us anything," he said. "This is very upsetting because we need to tell our employees. Some of them are leaving the restaurant late at night."

Dominici said he was also concerned that he hadn't seen more of a police presence at Diamond and 24th since the robbery. "They never come around," he said.

But Austin said that whenever a crime of this nature occurs, officers in patrol cars assigned to the neighborhood are advised to pass through more often. "They're told at the lineup in the morning what to be on the lookout for."

However, for Lustig, there's little that can change the way she has felt since being confronted by someone with a gun on 24th Street. "I don't feel safe in my neighborhood anymore," she said.