NEW ORLEANS - After a WWL-TV report on an attack in the Quarter over the weekend that left a man with a concussion and a broken jaw, and a woman with a bruised lip, the NOPD opened an internal investigation into one of their officers in connection with the case, but not the one seen on surveillance video.
“We were just minding our own business and it happened,” said the female victim, who didn’t want to be identified because she fears for her safety.
She was with 27-year-old Donnie Mehrtens III Saturday morning when three men jumped them. She did share a picture of her swollen and cut lip after one of the three attackers punched her.
Mehrtens went home from the hospital Tuesday, family members say, after surgery to put two plates in his jaw that was broken in three places.
The female victim said an overheard racial slur minutes before may have started the altercation.
“Donnie was just having a conversation with me and he had used the ‘n’ word just in a general conversation with me. Not calling anybody the name at all,” she said.
She and Donnie were trying to find Donnie's car so that they could go home at around 6 a.m. Saturday. They had met for a night out with another male friend at a bar on Bourbon Street called Bourbon Heat. Donnie had offered to bring the woman home, while their friend stayed out.
The female victim says after the three suspects overheard the alleged racial slur, they started shouting at Donnie.
“Just kind of started drama. Like, 'What did you say?' And I put my hand over Donnie's mouth and said I really don't want to deal with this. I just got off of work. So, we turned around and walked the opposite way,” she said.
After asking a worker at a nearby parking garage where another might be so they could find their car, they turned around to go the other way and encountered the three young men again. That’s when one shouted again at Donnie on Iberville Street.
“He said, what if I hit your girl? And Donnie just looked at me and said, 'Just keep walking,'” she said.
“You just turn a blind eye and walk away to my understanding, that's what was happening. They were walking away. If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all,” said Alexandria Wilson, Mehrtens’ step-sister.
Mehrtens' family members say how the altercation started doesn't justify the fact that a police report wasn't written in the case, or the fact that they believe it was mishandled.
They have so little confidence in police that they hired a private investigator to try and find the people responsible.
“Justice needs to be served,” said Mehrtens’ step-mother Christine Melancon.
New Orleans police said Tuesday that the officer who is seen in a video pulling up at the scene without getting out of the car, did, in fact, get out of the car. Video provided to Eyewitness News on Wednesday appeared to show the officer out of the car for 5-6 minutes. The video shows the car pulling up to the scene and appearing empty at some point, while a figure in the background approaches the ambulance. Police say the motion detection cameras that captured the incident stopped recording even though he was moving around his car, and did not capture him gathering information.
Police said that officer was on his way off the clock at 7 a.m. and stopped because he was flagged down at the scene, not because he was dispatched.
Police said he told the dispatchers that the victim was headed to Tulane Hospital in an ambulance and to send an officer to write a report because the attack was over.
But both Mehrtens’ friend who spoke with that officer and the female victim said the officer at the scene never spoke to them.
“The only thing that they took down was my name and address and that was the ambulance, the EMS guys,” she said.
Police said a dispatcher, who also works for the NOPD, was given the information that a victim was going to the hospital, but reportedly sent the other, report-writing officer to the scene instead of the hospital.
When he got to the scene, the ambulance and all the other witnesses were gone and he declared it an unfounded incident without trying to find the missing victim.
“They might have been able to affectuate an arrest if it had been properly handled at the time of the event,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
After hearing the facts of the case, he called the incident “sloppy police work.”
“The matter should, and will be corrected and I think that the offense will be properly classified, but the question becomes now is the trail now so cold that the police are gonna have a difficult time locating the suspects in this case,” he said.
The victim said she only talked to police two days later after Eyewitness News started looking into it.
Monday, police released the same surveillance video reported on Tuesday to the rest of the news media.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, NOPD Spokeswoman Remi Braden had this to say about their internal investigation, "The department has initiated disciplinary investigations into the actions of the dispatcher in this case, as well as the officer who arrived at the scene after the ambulance had left, but did not take further action to locate the victim. We regret that errors were made, and will see to it that appropriate measures are taken to discourage similar errors in the future."