Inside the FBI: Unforgotten Justice - The Story of a Hate Crime Survivor
November 17, 2016
The FBI aggressively investigates hate crimes. Such bias-motived crimes are the number one priority of the FBI’s civil rights program. Here, a hate crime survivor tells his story.
Mollie Halpern: The FBI aggressively investigates hate crimes. Such bias-motived crimes are the number one priority of the FBI’s civil rights program.
Special Agent Jenelle Janabajal investigates civil rights cases in the FBI’s Houston Field Office.
Jenelle Janabajal: When we do these kinds of cases and we address these kinds of offenses, we're really affirming the humanity of everybody—every member of our society. And we're essentially making a statement that you cannot abuse someone, you cannot assault someone, you cannot perpetrate this kind of offense against someone just because of a particular characteristic that you may not like.
Halpern: I‘m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau, and you’re listening to Inside the FBI.
Coming up on this episode…
How the FBI and its partners closed the case on a horrendous hate crime…
Janabajal: It was a difficult case, and there were a lot of challenges.
Halpern: Hear what the victim from that case wants you to know…
Keire Gartica: I survived my hate crime. So many people have not survived them.
Halpern: But first, this marks the 25th year of the FBI gathering and publishing data about bias-motivated crimes through its Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
The annual Hate Crime Statistics report provides information about the offenses, victims, offenders, and locations of hate crimes in this country.
Jeff Veltri is the chief of the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Jeff Veltri: We strongly encourage all of our state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to report hate crime statistics to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program so that we can have an enhanced understanding of the magnitude of hate crime incidents in our country. With accurate reporting, we are better positioned to combat the crime and determine ways to prevent future incidents.
Halpern: The FBI recently released the Hate Crime Statistics report for last year.
The report shows incidents motivated by multiple biases jumped about 53 percent in 2015 when compared to the year before.
Furthermore, 5,850 single-bias hate crime incidents were committed in 2015. That’s an increase of 6.8 percent during the same time period.
It’s heartbreaking news to Keire Gartica, who was the target of a hate crime.
At the time, Keire was a senior majoring in political science at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was also a drug user, and on March 8, 2012, he went to his dealer’s apartment.
He was invited inside for a drink.
Gartica: And as soon as I took my first sip, the attack started. It was a sneak attack: a punch to my ear, followed with racial epithets. The next thing you know, I'm surrounded by people, getting jumped, and in my mind I'm thinking, “Oh my God, I'm screwed. How am I going to get out of this?”
Halpern: Three men punched, kicked, and stomped on Keire. Case agent Janabajal…
Janabajal: They created a weapon to hit him with—they put some batteries in a sock and started beating him with that. They then decided to move him into the kitchen area. While they were in the kitchen area, they held him up against the wall and started whipping him with the belt, making references to slavery and calling him derogatory names.
And then they decided to take it a step further, and they started making fun of him because he is homosexual. And so they started using slurs and calling him all kinds of derogatory names, and that's when they sodomized him.
Gartica: But I never retaliated physically, because I figured that would incite them to amp up the violence. So my strategy was to try to remain calm and talk my way through it. I tried to reason with the attackers. There was no reasoning.
Halpern: The men forced Keire to take off all of his clothes.
Janabajal: They also forced him to clean up the apartment because he was bleeding all over the place. And so they gave him a couple of rags and said, “Clean, slave, clean.” They poured either bleach or some other kind of cleaning solution on his face and into his eyes and said, “Maybe this will help you clean.”
Halpern: The men pistol-whipped and threatened Keire.
Janabajal: During the assault, they were taking breaks. They would wash their hands and come up with what they wanted to do next. During one of these breaks, he heard them saying things that led him to believe that they weren't going to let him leave—that at this point, they had just done too much and they were probably going to kill him.
Halpern: During the heated discussion, the man with the gun got distracted.
Gartica: And when he got distracted, I jumped out the window and asked God to let me make it out of there alive.
Halpern: Naked and bloody, Keire ran for his life.
Gartica: Then there was a chase. I heard the footsteps. I jumped the fence and ran out into the street to try to flag down somebody to help me.
Halpern: People in the neighborhood saw him and dialed 911.
Janabajal: The first officer who arrived on the scene described him as the most scared person she had ever seen. It was very obvious immediately to her that he had been very badly beaten. It was also obvious to her that he had been sexually assaulted because he had just rivers of blood running down his legs.
Keire: It’s just like, how the hell did this just happen? Like, did this really just happen?
Halpern: Keire was taken to a hospital for treatment. There, he was able to provide police with a description and location of the drug house.
Janabajal: When the police arrived, there were no people in the house, but they walked into a pretty horrific crime scene. There was blood everywhere—there was blood on the walls, there was blood on the ceiling, there was blood all over the place.
Halpern: Police collected evidence. After Keire was discharged from the hospital, he went to the police station, where he gave statements. He was also able to pick a few of his attackers out of a photo lineup.
The investigation appeared to be getting some traction.
Then, it stopped. Only silence from Keire.
Janabajal: After a period of time had gone by, he's obviously very traumatized by what had happened, knowing that the subjects were still out there, knowing that they knew he had gone to the police. He was very afraid.
Halpern: Struggling emotionally and physically, Keire dropped out of college. He left Corpus Christi to return home to his family about two-and-a-half hours away in Bay City.
Janabajal: He was terrified. He refused to come back. And so without a cooperative victim at that point, they decided that they couldn't prosecute the case.
Halpern: So, nearly two months after the assault, the case was closed. Keire’s suffering and nightmares, though, continued. His drug abuse worsened. He would later be diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gartica: I stayed disfigured and swollen for months and just didn't care about life.
Halpern: One year passed.
And then another.
Keire was trying to move on with his life. He even started a tutoring business for children.
And the offenders?
Janabajal: They thought that this wasn't something they were ever going to have to be held accountable for.
Halpern: Unbeknownst to Keire, his attack had caught the eyes of employees inside the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
Jared Fishman: Anytime someone is victimized because of their race, or, in this case, because of his race and sexual orientation, and they’re targeted specifically for that characteristic, that’s something that we take very seriously.
Halpern: That was Special Litigation Counsel Jared Fishman, who says they had been monitoring the case and saw that the state had not prosecuted it.
Fishman: This case was brought to our attention just because of how heinous the crime, how egregious the injuries, so we looked into it further.
Halpern: The Department of Justice and FBI special agents reached out to Keire to see if he’d be willing to move forward with a federal investigation.
Gartica: About a week after I started my business back home, I got a call from the FBI, and I found out that there had been tremendous progress made in the case. And I was just emotionally overcome, because I thought that I had been forgotten about and I thought there would never be justice.
Halpern: Over the next two years, FBI investigators would work the case. It would prove to be a difficult and challenging one for the investigators and Keire alike.
Gartica: I have to give a shout out to Miss Jenelle. When you think of an FBI agent, you think of TV, think of action movies. I could not have had a better team helping me through this process. It was scary. It was intimidating. It was like pulling teeth. We're going over pictures. We're going over evidence. I'm trying to identify people. I'm struggling with the substance abuse issue at the same time. I'm totally unstable, and these agents were so professional and so caring and so loving and nurturing, and I thank God.
That pain was taken away. They talked to me like a human being, like a victim. They did not talk to me or handle me like an addict. So, that respect that they showed me is really what touches me.
Halpern: The more investigators uncovered, the more it became….
Janabajal: …very clear to us that the reason he was whipped was because he was black, and the reason he was sodomized was because he was gay. That was very obvious, both because of the type of violence that they used but also because of the things they said while they were doing it.
Halpern: Every so often throughout the investigation, agents would catch a break. Like when the FBI Laboratory connected evidence from the crime scene to the suspects.
Janabajal: When we confronted the subjects, of course they denied being present. They said, “No, you know, I wasn't there.” So, being able to link them to the crime scene by their own DNA was very helpful for us. It was very powerful to be able to confront them with that and to say, “No, we know you were there because you left DNA.”
Halpern: Once confronted with the evidence—particularly the DNA evidence—the suspects—Ramiro Serrata, Jimmy Garza, and Carlos Garcia—admitted to their crimes.
Nearly four years after the assault, on February 17, 2016, Serrata and Garza were each sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. They had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit hate crimes and one count of hate crime violation of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crime Act for causing bodily injury because of the victim’s sexual orientation.
In March, Garcia was sentenced to 48 months in prison for one count of making false statements to law enforcement. He had denied being present during the assault when, in actuality, he had participated in it.
Fishman: We felt very satisfied that we developed the evidence that we needed to prove out the case. And very satisfied ultimately that the two main attackers received substantial sentences, which vindicated how terrible this attack was.
Halpern: The guilty pleas meant that Keire didn’t have to experience the emotional turmoil of a trial, but he did face his attackers in court. It was an intense moment.
Gartica: We made eye contact; we were, like, one or two feet away from each other. It was surreal. It was surreal. It was surreal. That's the only word I can think of.
Halpern: Keire took the opportunity to address the men.
Gartica: I forgave them in court. I let that go and turned it over to God. Really, it's in His hands.
Halpern: After Keire delivered his victim statement, one his attackers, Serrata, apologized to him.
Gartica: It makes me feel good—restores hope. I'm a country boy. I believe everybody's inherently good. This affected that, but to know that there was some apology and some remorse and that he truly regrets what he did, it restored my faith in the human heart.
Janabajal: Investigations like this, I think, are very important. Civil rights cases implicate some of the fundamental principles of civilized society. They are the principles that say that everyone gets to be treated fairly. Everyone gets to be treated by a certain standard of dignity just because they are human. And anything that seeks to deprive them of that is something that we have to address. I think it's extremely important, because if we're going to live together and we're going to have a society that functions and works well, you have to be able to protect people's dignity.
Halpern: Keire is currently undergoing a recovery program and beginning to feel like his old self again. He is also working two jobs and has plans to return to college to finish his degree.
Gartica: I’m happy now. The closure that came from the case freed my spirit. The burden has been lifted. And now, I'm moving on with my life. The nightmares stopped the night I got back from the final hearing I attended in federal court. I have not had a nightmare since then. There's power in forgiveness. And once I let that go, the nightmares stopped. So now I'm moving on with my life.
Halpern: Keire encourages other victims of hate crimes to seek help for the potential effects of trauma.
Gartica: There is no shame in being the victim of a hate crime. It was not your fault. If the hatred in someone else's heart, and the bigotry has resulted in you being attacked for that, it's not your fault. You need help. It's called a hate crime for a reason.
Halpern: The FBI’s Office for Victim Assistance provides support, resources, and other assistance to victims of crimes the Bureau investigates. FBI victim specialists are highly trained and have extensive experience in crisis intervention, social services, and victim assistance. They are located in FBI Headquarters and 56 field offices across the country.
In addition to seeking help, Keire says not to hesitate reporting a crime to law enforcement.
Gartica: Being a young black man in America, you have conceptions of law enforcement, whether it's your city police, the sheriffs—law enforcement in general. And I don't have that anymore. It's gone now. They're real people. They want to help. I believe that the justice system worked, and it worked for me and I never thought it would.
Halpern: If you are a victim of a hate crime, report it to your local FBI field office.
To see the FBI’s latest Hate Crime Statistics report, visit www.fbi.gov.
Also on the website are tips for coping with the effects of crime for victims and those who love them.
Thanks for listening to Inside the FBI, I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau.