I’m not the kind of guy who likes to call the cops. In fact, I’ll do everything I can to settle my disputes without involving the police. You could even say I was sent to prison to avoid getting involved — we’ll get to that later.
But when I was mugged by Terrell Tramell, 28, Feb. 4, just after 1 a.m., in the Lower Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, I felt like the only choice I had was to call the police.
I first met Trammell in 2006 while I was inmate number 98005-011 at the Dublin Federal Detention Center. He was number 92544-011, but everyone called him “Rail,” or “Rell.”
I was sent to prison by Federal Judge William Alsup after I refused to testify before a Federal Grand Jury about the identities and activities of protesters I had covered for my video blog and for refusing to surrender my video outtakes. I was held in contempt of court for 226 days and was released after publishing the video. I did not have to testify.
Rail was at FDC Dublin for violating the terms of his probation. I don’t know what he was accused of doing, but he wasn’t there very long. But early the next year he returned to Dublin on another violation. There were only two people that I had any problems with while I was incarcerated, and I was frequently harassed by Rail for no apparent reason while we were both incarcerated. He was most recently released Nov. 7, and I have seen him in my neighborhood several times in the past few months.
Up until last week, I had thought that things were civil between us. After so many short casual conversations, I honestly didn’t expect that he would attack me that night. Less than 15 minutes before the attack we had been talking at Volare’s Pizza after I returned to the city for a late dinner. We chatted about the local pizza spots, Greg Anderson (Barry Bond’s personal trainer that was also detained for civil contempt at FDC Dublin while we were both there), and even our respective occupations. He was “working right now,” he said.
As I walked home carrying the box of pizza in one hand and two sodas in the other, I heard Rail call from across the street, “Got a light?”
Being the kind of person that I am I awkwardly fished out a lighter from my pocket as he crossed the street. But when I went to hand him the lighter I was greeted with a punch to the face and the pizza went flying.
I lost my glasses and called out for help, as a quick series of jabs to the face continued. But my cries for help were only greeted by a friend of his I had first seen at the pizza place coming to his aid. I fell to the ground asking, “What do you want?” as I began to wonder if this was a robbery or simply a beating. The punches became kicks. I shielded my face.
“Let’s go,” said the friend as the kicks continued.
Rail then grabs me by the jacket and reaches into my inner pocket where he had most likely seen me place my iPhone after I received a call at the pizza place. He grabs my left pocket, where my car and house keys are being kept. He tears the pocket, but in the runs away with his friend.
Blood squirting from my nose, heart pounding, I lie on the ground for a moment collecting myself as I watch the feet of my two assailants dart away.
“That was my dinner,” I thought to myself as I stood up and saw the pizza splattered across the sidewalk.
A neighbor opens her door and steps out to ask if there’s anything she can do to help.
“Got a phone?” I ask.
She returns a moment later with a cell phone in hand. I dial 911. She notices the blood and comes back with a wet washcloth.
A few minutes later the police arrive. I flag them down with the bloody washcloth as if I am hailing a cab. An ambulance arrives later.
Several more cops arrive.
“Which way did they go?” one officer asks. They speed away in pursuit of a vague description of two young black males.
The officers ask me in the ambulance to tell them what I know. I give them a full description and explain how I know one of the men that attacked me, but cannot recall either his real name or even his alias. I tell the paramedics that I don’t need to go to the hospital.
I’m handed two pieces of paper. One of them has a case number written on it and the phone number for the robbery department circled. The other slip has the number for the city’s crime victim’s assistance program.
The moment I sit down in my kitchen, the name “Rail” returns to my memory and I pick up the phone to call the robbery department. But the number is only in service during regular business hours and it just rings and rings.
So I call the Central District, and speak to someone who explains that the crime occurred in the Northern District. When I ring up Northern, I am told that nobody can deal with the case at this time and that I will have to wait until 9 a.m. and talk to Robbery.
When I call Robbery, I am told that unless there are witnesses, and I, as the victim, don’t count, that the District Attorney won’t prosecute. He implies that it’s unlikely anyone will be following up on the case, despite the fact that I tell him I know who did it and the name his known by on the street.
Discouraged, I leave a message at the District Attorney’s office, talk to someone at the Mayor’s office and leave a message for my County Supervisor, Ross Mirkarimi.
That night I get a call from a detective that tells me he knows who I am talking about and says that he will prepare a photo lineup so that I can identify the guy the next day. Later on that night, I find out more about Rail than I ever wanted to know, including the fact that we’re neighbors.
Having half a mind to tell the police to forget the whole situation, I’m forced to ponder my options.
If I press charges, then Rail will likely try to retaliate as soon as he’s released. But if I do nothing then I am likely to be perceived as a chump and it’s only so long until I’m forced to deal with him again.
Had this happened in prison, the appropriate response would have been to talk to the black shot-caller and let ‘his people’ take care of the situation; anything else would likely erupt in a race riot.
But it happened on the streets where things aren’t black and white. And I wasn’t looking for retribution.
I would’ve liked to have just walked away, bruised and beaten, but ready to write it off as a very bad day.
I’m not in the game. But our worlds had collided, and simply hoping he’d leave me alone didn’t seem like a smart idea.
There’s a reason you don’t mug people that know you. Especially ones that live in your neighborhood. It makes things complicated.
And leaves me without out a whole lot of options.
I’m not the kind of guy who likes to call the cops.
But after hearing from a mutual acquaintance that Rail was unwilling to offer his assurances that I wouldn’t have any more problems, I felt I had no choice but to point to his photo when the detective showed me the line-up.
Terrell Trammell has since been charged with robbery and is being held at 850 Bryant Street. He is not eligible for bail because he is on federal probation.
NOTE: A version of this essay first appeared in the Feb. 16 edition of the Daily Post where I am a staff writer covering San Mateo County.