Issue April 21, 2009

Crime scene

Beware the petty criminals lurking at Derbytime

It’s a scene that’s played out thousands, maybe millions of times in Louisville during Derbytime, the vaunted two-week prelude to the race that attracts as many people as do the horses at Churchill Downs: Hit a bar with friends, order a cocktail or two, commence celebratory shots honoring the “regality” of the Kentucky Derby or some such jive — and by the time you say City Scoot, you can’t make out the numbers on your cell. This behavior is readily forgiven — understood intuitively perhaps by locals — and, for the majority of Derby partiers, ends in little worse than a cab ride home, brutal hangover and a few thousand extra calories.

But Derby is also a time to be vigilant. With massive crowds and wild parties comes crime.

For Tana Rogers, an out-of-towner who rented a house with friends for the 2007 Derby, the First Saturday in May was terrible and wrong.

Rogers, then 23, and several girlfriends hit Baxter Avenue for some drinking on Oaks night. Rogers had a couple vodka cocktails and two rounds of shots, according to subsequent police interviews. She and two girlfriends made their way to Akiko’s, the Bardstown Road karaoke bar, and kept drinking. Eventually two stumbled onto the sidewalk, sensing it was time to head back to the large camelback house they’d rented for the weekend, on Charles Street in nearby Germantown.

A man pulled up to the curb in what looked like a cab, with a sign on the car and an orange light in the dash, asking if the women needed a ride. They obliged, with Rogers hopping into the back seat and Angela Casey in the front.

Before long Rogers was slumped over, on the verge of passing out drunk. The driver, Martin Phillip Jackson — whom Casey later described as a “clean-cut” black man with a round face — pulled over, so he and Casey could sit her up. Apparently Jackson then removed Rogers’s shoes and propped her feet up on the front console. He rubbed her feet, saying he studied reflexology and that he was massaging a pressure point that would relieve nausea.

The car arrived at the Charles Street house sometime in the early hours of Derby Day. Jackson stopped and Casey got out. She was about to help Rogers out of the back when Jackson started to pull the car forward. He said there was someone behind who needed to get through, and that he’d just pull up into an open spot a few car-lengths ahead.

Instead he took off, burning around the corner with tires squealing. Where he went is not clear; by 3 a.m. police apprehended Jackson in a Jeffersontown neighborhood near his house. In the interim, he had allegedly punched, strangled and attempted to rape Rogers in the back seat of the car, she later told police. She lay across the back floorboard, head tucked under the driver’s seat, when police arrived.

Jackson, who in connection with a prior incident was charged with impersonating a cab driver, assault and kidnapping in January 2007, faces a jury trial in late May. He is charged with kidnapping, assault, attempted rape, evading police, driving a cab without a license and being a persistent felony offender.

Officer Phil Russell, a spokesman for Metro Police, says cabbie impersonators aren’t especially common around Derbytime, and that this seems to have been an isolated incident. Still, cab drivers must be licensed in Kentucky, and if you happen to need a cab over the next two weeks, be sure to peep the license, which must be displayed inside.

There are other things to beware of when ensconced in the Derby spirit. For instance, the Derby draws pickpockets from all over the country. Tens of thousands of race fans wandering around the Downs with pockets full of cash and maybe a few too many mint juleps is a good teat for a thirsty thief. Gents, keep your cash in your front pockets; ladies, clutch that purse tightly, and don’t set it down in some random place, even for a couple seconds.

Also, if you’re around Central Avenue on Oaks or Derby day, be careful about buying from street vendors. Pay with cash. Don’t hand some unlicensed street merchant your credit card info.

In general, violent crime doesn’t seem to increase around Derby, Russell says. It’s mostly drunks and their disorderly conduct.

“People understandably will be consuming all sorts of adult beverages, and so we want people to prepare and plan ahead and think that through, because the last thing they need to do is to all of a sudden take what would’ve been a very enjoyable day for them and have it ruined by being arrested for DUI or being involved in a traffic accident and, god forbid, causing an injury or fatality,” Russell says.

The Derbytime brigade includes every cop in the city, alongside recruits in the police academy, 20-plus law enforcement agencies throughout state, federal and local jurisdictions, and the Kentucky National Guard. LMPD officers are not allowed to take time off during Derby week, Russell says, their shifts are longer and typically more demanding, and they may be in a part of the city with which they’re not familiar. In other words, if there’s ever a time to give a hassling cop a break, it’s now.

A little patience might get you out of that public intoxication charge.