WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJLA) – A gay man was assaulted at a Safeway grocery store in D.C. last week.
Mark Rutstein was reportedly punched several times in the face by an unidentified woman while she called him a homophobic slur inside the Safeway at 5th and L Streets NW on July 2.
Rutstein says that all he did was ask her whether she was standing in line. The woman did not respond, but turned around and began punching the victim in the face.
“For me on a personal level, words are words. It’s when you actually act violently towards someone because you’re prejudiced or biased towards another race or orientation," said Rutstein, who says he restrained her while yelling for security to call police.
“When security and the assistant manager came over, one of them said ‘Let her go,’ and I said, ‘She just beat me in the face’ and they took her and walked her to the front door where she could run away," said Rutstein.
Frustrated that no one helped, Rutstein says this was the response he got from the store’s managers:
“They kept saying ‘We can’t touch anyone, we can’t touch anyone.’ I was like, ‘Call the police.’ He took his hand and went, ‘The police station is across the street.’”
Rutstein says the police station was closed, so he flagged down a passing officer and called the department’s gay and lesbian liaison unit. But when another officer came to take the report, he says the officer was anything but helpful.
“I don’t know what was going on in his life that day, but he clearly made me feel like I wasn’t a victim," Rutstein said.
In the report, the “Suspected Hate Crime” section was left blank, though MPD says that was a computer glitch and that the officer did in fact check the box for hate crime when writing the initial report.
The department says detectives are investigating whether a hate bias was a motive in this crime.
“People need to know there’s always some sort of retaliation…Safeway is in the wrong, and the police officer who gave me complete attitude the entire time as he’s taking the report. He needs to be corrected,” said Rutstein.
After the incident, the woman was reportedly escorted out of the store by two security guards before she fled on foot through the Safeway entrance in the 400 block of L. Street NW.
In a response from Safeway, spokesman Craig Muckle states:
"We work hard to make sure our stores are a safe place to shop and that our customers are treated with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, neither our employees nor the security guard saw the beginning of the incident in which a customer was struck by another customer. Thus they needed to make a split second decision, which was to break up what appeared to be an altercation between two shoppers. Phone records show that our employees did, indeed, call 9-1-1 repeatedly. We have apologized to the customer and are conducting our own investigation as well as continue to cooperate with law enforcement on their investigation."
The suspect is described as African-American woman in her 20s, between 5 feet and 6 inches tall, weighing 110 to 125 pounds, with brown eyes and a light brown complexion.
Police are asking the public's for help in identifying the suspect, pictured above in a video from one of the Safeway security cameras that police posted to YouTube on Monday.
Anyone who has information regarding this case should call police at 202-727-9099. Additionally, information may be submitted to the TEXT TIP LINE by text messaging 50411.