“When I try to go to sleep at night, it wakes me up and it’s something that I can’t get out of my mind. It just has me like this,” Jorge Rodriguez says as he circles his hands around each side of his head.
It all started on Sunday Aug. 9, after a 14-hour workday. Rodriguez, who works in siding for a Longmont construction company, was picking up a 12-pack of beer at the Hover Crossing Wine & Spirits drive-thru like he often does after a long week. But as he sat in his truck counting his change, the truck behind him began honking. Rodriguez says he waved in the mirror, said sorry, and pulled out of the way to finish what he was doing.
As the truck drove past him, Rodriguez says the driver yelled: “Fuck you, motherfucker,” while throwing him the middle finger. Rodriguez says he then exited the parking lot, heading down the street to his boss’ house. The man in the truck was in front of him.
At the small roundabout by Green Acres Park at 18th and Spencer streets, Rodriguez says the man slammed on his brakes causing Rodriguez to quickly pull his e-brake to avoid hitting him. According to Rodriguez, the man then got out of his truck and so did Rodriguez.
“He started coming toward me and I was afraid,” Rodriguez says says through an interpreter. “I was thinking, why is this person coming toward me? Why are they insulting me? He was saying things in English like, ‘fuck you, Mexican.’ And that was when he hit me the first time.”
Rodriguez says the first blow to the left side of his face knocked him to the ground. He says he was hit about 30 times over the course of five or six minutes, while he was on his knees on the asphalt. At one point, Rodriguez says the man climbed on top of his back as he continued to say, “Go back to your country, Mexican.”
Rodriguez is from Honduras and has been in Colorado for about 10 years, since leaving home to find work in the U.S.
“You see this in the news and you know that it happens daily, but you never think that it’s going to happen here or to one personally,” Rodriguez says. Rodriguez says he’s never experienced anything like this either in the U.S. or in Honduras. “Maybe [it happens] in the big cities, but I come from a small town where we just work the land. There’s not that type of violence,” he says.
Rodriguez says he didn’t try to fight back but just kept asking, “Why you push me? Why you hit me?” in English. “I just felt fear. I thought he was going to kill me. Because you always see on the news how people come out and they have guns or weapons with them. And so there was that fear of, I don’t know what he’s got. I don’t know what he’s bringing with him.”
According to Rodriguez, a woman with the accused assailant tried to intervene, telling Rodriguez to go back to his car and getting in between the two men. Eventually two other women who were walking around the park came upon the scene, but Rodriguez says at least one of them joined the man in yelling at him to go back to his country.
“And they were saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to call police,’” he remembers. “But then they never did. And I was hoping that somebody would call the police.”
And then all of sudden, Rodriguez says, everyone was gone. And he was left alone in the street.
“I went back to my truck,” he says. “I had misplaced my wallet. The only thing I could find was my phone. I was completely confused. My face was swollen.”
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Charges have yet to be filed in the case, but Longmont detective Nick Aiello referred the investigation to Boulder County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday, Aug. 18. “We need to go through their entire investigation and determine whether any follow up is needed, and upon receiving any follow up requested we will then determine what, if any, charges should be filed in this matter,” says Christian Gardner-Wood, director of community protection at the DA’s office. He expects to have an update in the next couple of weeks.
As of Friday, Aug. 14, Aiello confirmed a suspect had been identified and interviewed, as well as several independent witnesses. At the time, Aiello said the department was still searching for the two women who came upon the incident. Aiello added in an email, “Thus far, there are differing accounts of what occurred.”
“That is not unusual in most cases, including these types of cases,” Gardner-Wood says. Anecdotally, he says, law enforcement agencies in Boulder County have seen an increase in reporting of hate and biased-motivated crimes in recent years.
“One of the things we always wonder is,” Gardner-Wood says, “is it because of increased incidents or is it because of increased awareness and knowing that this office does take it seriously and that people will be supported?”
The DA’s office implemented its bias and hate crimes initiative in 2018, focused on prevention, training and prosecution, soon after Michael Dougherty was elected. The initiative includes a designated bias and hate hotline. Statistics either from the hotline or overall bias and hate crimes aren’t readily available, Gardner-Wood says.
According to Colorado Crime Statistics, Longmont had four crimes in 2019 classified under hate, which the FBI defines as “a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Overall, there were 273 reported hate crimes in Colorado the same year, with 10 cases reported through the Boulder Police Department. Nationally, data on these crimes is often incomplete as there aren’t uniform reporting requirements.
Donna Lovato, the executive director of El Comité de Longmont, says she’s also heard of more and more verbal attacks on immigrants and the Latinx population, although nothing like what Rodriguez says happened to him.
“It doesn’t escalate to physical violence, but it’s clearly verbal abuse,” she says. “When they see us [with] dark hair, dark eyes, they don’t care that you’re from Mexico or Central America or South America, or even have lived in the United States for — well my family goes back something like 17 generations.”
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Rodriguez says after the attack, he put his truck in first gear since the abrupt stop had jammed his transmission, and slowly drove to his boss Jackie Gonzales’ house down the street. Gonzales was in Aspen, however, so Rodriguez called and texted her over the next several hours while he waited for her outside her house.
“It was just really frustrating because I’m not getting reception and all he’s telling me is, ‘I’m attacked. It was these racist people,’” Gonzalez says. Although she told him to call the police, Rodriguez refused, saying he was afraid to call them by himself without the ability to speak better English.
Gonzalez has lived in Longmont for 10 years, about as long as she’s known Rodriguez. Running a construction company, Gonzalez says it’s common for her to intervene and help her employees communicate with law enforcement because of language barriers. But, she says, she’s never experienced anything like this.
“I’ve never been through something like this. I’ve never had one of my employees be assaulted like this,” she says. “It’s not like Longmont is immune to it. But just as a whole, Longmont is not very violent. You don’t hear about that type of stuff.”
Gonzalez is the one who first called the police and told Rodriguez to walk to the site of the incident to wait for them. She says that around 10 p.m. he began to tell the officers what happened in his broken English, as there wasn’t an interpreter present. When she arrived, she retold the officers Rodriguez’ story, translating his Spanish.
Rodriguez says he’s continued to cooperate with the police, including describing the man who allegedly attacked him and helping identify him. Still, he says, it’s hard for him to interact with the police because of the language barrier.
“It’s difficult because they have their way of doing things,” Rodriguez says. “And it’s hard for me to understand with my English and everything. They always have to get a translator and that’s what’s lacking here in Longmont.”
“Through this process, we realized that there was definitely a lot of confusion with the police that first day,” adds Josh Stallings, a community organizer with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC). “We would love to know what the Longmont police department’s policies are around language access because if there isn’t a requirement, we would love to work with the City to create a policy to make sure that everyone has access in their language of choice to interact with the police.”
According to Deputy Chief of Public Safety Jeff Satur, the department has 28 employees who participate in the bilingual compensation program, a three-tier program that rewards people who are fluent in Spanish and American Sign Language. Fifty officers within the department have also attended Spanish immersion courses (some of whom are now in the bilingual compensation program) and the department prioritizes Spanish language skills in hiring. Additionally, three victim advocates are fluent in Spanish as well as a few employees from dispatch. The entire department has access to a translation service via a cell phone app.
Satur adds in an email that there are Spanish-speaking officers and detectives throughout all shifts, but with 92,000 calls for service every year, “a lot of other factors go into availability, which is why we also have the language line, which is always available to the officer.”
Likewise, Gardner-Wood says about half of the victim advocates in the DA’s office are bilingual, as are all of the receptionists. “I think we do a good job of in terms of being able to communicate with our Spanish-speaking victims or Spanish-speaking community members,” he says.
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Rodriguez says after he spoke with the police at the park that night, Gonzalez took him to the hospital. He had a broken nose, swollen face and scrapes and bruises. He already couldn’t see well out of his left eye due to a childhood injury, but now it’s even worse. He says he also has ringing in his left ear and it’s difficult to sleep because of the pain and pressure in his head. He hasn’t been able to work since the incident.
Rodriguez’ story has drawn widespread public support as a GoFundMe to cover lost income, truck repairs and potentially medical bills has raised more than $22,500. There was also a rally on Saturday, Aug. 15 to show “hate has no place in Longmont.” (It was reported a counter-protest was also held across the street, with folks displaying American and Trump flags.)
Rodriguez says the incident has also frightened his friends and roommates, and other members of the Latinx community in Longmont and beyond.
“I think it’s something that’s affected the entire Latino community,” he says, “because if this happened to me at a liquor store, it could happen to anyone anywhere.”
If you witness or are a victim of a hate or bias-motivate crime, call the DA hotline at 303-441-1595.