| February 2012
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By Corrie M. Anders
Just hours after a serial rapist’s savage predawn attack on a woman walking alone on Fair Oaks Street near 24th Street, a group of alarmed residents started to fight back.
By phone, text, and email, they circulated news of the Dec. 8 attack, and of two earlier sexual assaults along 24th Street in the Mission District.
They forwarded police alerts, posted safety flyers, and organized a massive community meeting. They also launched a fund to pay medical bills and other expenses for the three women victims.
Neighbors must respond “when something awful like this happens,” said Blair Moser, a member of the Fair Oaks Community Coalition. “We stuck our heads out the door and said let’s call a meeting and get this done.”
Five weeks later, the 24th Street Survivors Fund had raised over $14,000 for the crime victims. More importantly, a suspect was in custody and awaiting trial. Relief was palpable throughout Noe Valley and the Mission, and San Francisco police were congratulating the public on its role in the suspect’s capture.
“We’re very thankful that we were able to identify this person and get him into custody…before another woman was injured and sexually assaulted,” said Commander Michael Biel, a key investigator in the case.
Working from an anonymous tip, police arrested San Francisco resident Frederick Dozier Jr., 32, at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 6, at the Bernal Dwellings apartment complex at Cesar Chavez Street and Treat Avenue.
Dozier was charged with 26 felony counts, including attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery, attempted rape, forcible oral copulation, and other sexual assaults. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence of “at least 100 years,” said Stephanie Ong Stillman, spokesperson for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
While neighbors were pleased to hear a suspect was in jail, they were disturbed to learn that Dozier had been employed by the San Francisco Unified School District since 2008, most recently as a cafeteria worker at James Lick Middle School on Noe Street.
The arrest prompted Marilyn Koral, acting principal at James Lick, to send a letter Jan. 11 to parents. She noted that Dozier “had been working in our cafeteria since October…as a part-time, temporary, as needed employee.”
The letter, which advised students that counselors were available for anyone troubled over the “difficult” news, sought to reassure parents and students.
“The criminal assaults with which he is charged have no connection to his duties or responsibilities as a student nutrition services worker and were not directed towards the children,” Koral wrote. “His alleged criminal actions occurred outside the school district.”
The school district terminated Dozier’s employment Jan. 9.
The assaults all took place in the early morning hours along the 24th Street corridor. The first occurred June 17 when a man robbed and raped a woman at 2:50 a.m. at 24th Street and South Van Ness Avenue. The next attack came at about 4 a.m. on Nov. 18 in the area of 24th and Potrero streets. In that incident, the woman was also beaten and choked.
The violence escalated in the Dec. 8 assault, which occurred at 6:20 a.m. mid-block on Fair Oaks Street, a narrow tree-lined street of Victorian homes off 24th Street. The assailant came up behind the victim, who was in her early 30s, then grabbed and choked her until she blacked out, according to police. When the woman came to while being raped, her attacker smashed her face into the concrete sidewalk—resulting in such profuse bleeding that the fire department was called in to scour the pavement.
The horrific assault galvanized Mission and Noe Valley residents, including Fair Oaks Community Coalition president Andy Segal and fellow members Nancy Deutsch, Veronica Gaynor, and Charles and Blair Moser.
The group printed police flyers—some in Spanish—with surveillance photos of the suspect, $25,000 reward information, and a list of safety tips, and posted them at shops, restaurants, and on utility poles. Members emailed and faxed their neighbors, contacted Project SAFE, and sponsored a community meeting Dec. 13 at St. James Catholic Church on Guerrero Street. A standing-room-only crowd of several hundred people attended.
After Dozier’s arrest, FOCC members and dozens of local residents attended a Jan. 11 meeting of Upper Noe Neighbors to hear firsthand reports from police who had been involved in the month-long dragnet.
Police Commend Residents
The police officials, who included Biel, Captain Louis Cassanego, and Antonio Parra, head of the department’s newly formed Special Victims Unit, told the UNN gathering that the public played a major role in identifying the suspect.
“All we had [the week after the Fair Oaks assault] were suspect drawings, grainy video, very little information,” Biel said. “From those humble beginnings, the tips and phone calls we got from you really helped us. Thank you.”
Parra stressed that the community’s efforts to spread the word via email, listservs, and blogs vastly increased the volume of tips received.
“Every tip we received was followed up on, not once but twice,” Parra said. “Eventually, that’s what broke the case.”
According to Cassanego, who heads the SFPD’s Forensic Services Division, DNA evidence was crucial to linking the suspect to the three assaults.
Survivors Fund Grows
Police said the Fair Oaks Street victim was recovering—as were the other two women—but had suffered severe physical and psychological trauma that would take time to mend.
“She’s healing, but she’s going to have a scar,” said Cassanego.
Although the state’s Victim Assistance Program may reimburse the victims for some medical and therapy bills, the 24th Street Survivors Fund was created to help pay their immediate expenses.
“If they’re off work, they may have to pay out of their own pockets for rent, food, and daily living expenses,” said Moser, who lives on the block where the December attack occurred.
The coalition, a seven-year-old neighborhood association, established the fund at Sterling Bank and Trust on 24th Street, which opened the account pro bono.
“This is something that hit home locally, and I felt it [the gratis account] was something we should do as a community bank,” said Nick Demopoulos, the bank’s branch manager.
Demopoulos said news of the assaults struck a nerve with the public, prompting donations from around the country, including $2,500 from a Minnesota foundation. But city residents and local businesses provided the bulk of contributions.
“There were moms coming in with their 9- and 10-year-old little girls with their allowance money,” he said, “giving two or three dollars to the Survivors Fund.”
As of Jan. 30, the fund was approaching $14,500, he said. Contributions may be sent to Sterling Bank & Trust, 3800 24th St., San Francisco, CA 94114; Attn: Nick Demopoulos. Checks should be made out to the 24th Street Survivors Fund.
Lights Finally On
Fair Oaks neighbors last month were still dismayed that the attack occurred in a darkened section of the block where Blair Moser had earlier complained that a streetlight had burned out.
Moser said she notified the city Nov. 28 about the fixture and was told PG&E was responsible for the lighting. Moser said she called the utility the next day, but the bulb was not replaced.
After the Dec. 8 assault, Moser complained to District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who alerted the utility company and the bulb was replaced immediately.
“It’s so bright now,” said Moser. “If they had fixed it that week, he wouldn’t have taken her where he did,” Moser said.
PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said the utility had no record of a repair order for the Fair Oaks Street address but moved quickly to restore lighting.
“We had the light repaired within three hours of the supervisor calling us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dozier is being held without bail pending a Feb. 23 court hearing. His arrest may have ended what San Francisco District Attorney George Gasc—n called “a reign of terror.”
Don’t Ignore These Safety Tips
The SFPD says there are steps you can take to lesson your chances of being robbed or assaulted on the street:
¥ Always be alert to your surroundings. Be wary of a stranger deliberately approaching you or following you. Have your keys in your hand as you approach your car or home, so there is minimum delay in getting inside.
¥ Remain alert when using electronic devices, such as cell phones, smart phones, or iPods, in public—especially on Muni. People using these devices tend to be disassociated from their surroundings and are often the target of opportunistic criminals.
¥ Walk with a family member or friend, especially after dark.
¥ If someone demands your purse or wallet, surrender it. Resisting may result in bodily harm. Report anything stolen to police immediately.
In addition, San Francisco Police Capt. Louis Cassanego said residents should trust their instincts. Knock on nearby doors or go into a nearby business if you feel watched, followed, or threatened in any way, he said.
Law enforcement officials also advised cell phone users in an emergency to call police at 553-8090 (as well as 911), to be sure the call is routed to SFPD.
Sally Smith contributed to this report.