BALTIMORE - By now you've seen the videos and heard the hype about the so-called "knockout game". It's being dismissed by some as hysteria or media hype, but some assault victims in Baltimore believe it's happened to them.
ABC2 talked to victims months ago, before the "knockout game" was a national buzz phrase. Back then, leaders wouldn't talk to us because they weren't aware of the problem. Now they won't talk because they don't want it to become one here in Baltimore.
Jonathan Lomaskin spent the summer battered, beaten up and broken.
"I had a complete fracture. Basically my lower mandible was fractured in half and all these teeth rolled inward," Lomaskin said.
With his broken jaw wired shut for four weeks, Lomaskin ate nothing but smoothies through a syringe. His Anne Arundel County-based parents played nurse, along with friends and neighbors.
"It was very tough to see him hurt, very tough to see such a peaceful person attacked for no reason," Lomaskin's mother, Kathy, told us.
But an attack is exactly how Jonathan ended up in in the hospital and in recovery. It happened in July on the streets of Baltimore's Little Italy neighborhood. The incident was caught on video, capturing a moment Jon can barely remember.
"I just recall the one strike. It's all like a flash to me," Lomaskin said.
One punch was all it took to send him to the ground, although in a daze Jon did get up and run. Several security cameras were rolling during the attack, capturing the kind of case Lomaskin's attorney, Steve Kelly, says has been making headlines recently. He likens the attack to something else, a phenomenon known as the knockout game.
That game has been the focus of unbelievable videos shown around the world thanks to the internet. It features groups of young people who target someone and try to knock them out with one punch.
Kelly says there's no specific category to classify these cases, but feels he's seen evidence they've happened in Baltimore. He says, "It's hard to say whether a few cases constitute a pattern but I do think the cases suggest certainly a deeper issue that needs to be dealt with."
Kelly represents Lomaskin but also victims in two other cases he says are reminiscent of the videos making headlines. In all three cases, there have been criminal charges filed. In Lomaskin's case, which involves a group of Baltimore youth, robbery is among the charges. But he believes the cell phone Jon dropped after getting punched in the face is a secondary issue.
In Kelly's other two cases, the victims, he says, were viciously beaten on the street but nothing was taken from them. You won't see those cases splashed all over the news though, because the videos haven't gone viral. Video from the 2012 attack of one of Kelly's clients is in the custody of the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office. The agency rejected our request for the video, stating that even though the case is listed on the STET docket, it could still be prosecuted.
Another Kelly case involves a Baltimore victim who asked us not to identify him. His girlfriend spoke with us on the condition she also remained anonymous. She told ABC2, "I never know who I'm going to wake up to. He's a different person every day."
In that November 2012 case the victim was attacked downtown near the Baltimore Parking Authority in the middle of the day. Police reports show he was approached by a group and beaten. No robbery was involved.
"They turned around, hit him from behind and immediately he was unconscious," his girlfriend said.
That victim, according to his family, spent weeks in the hospital and is now dealing with a traumatic brain injury, constant paranoia and fear that keep him out of work. Two men in that case are awaiting trial this winter. Dominic Wardrick and Terance Green, Jr. have both been charged with attempted murder in an attack the victim's loved ones say is nothing remotely close to a game.
"I would just like to know why, why they did this, why they picked him or why they pick anybody," his girlfriend told us.
Kelly believes some of the victims of the knockout game are potentially chosen by race. He says, "I think there's a reluctance to want to focus on it because it's such a difficult and sticky problem."
And it's also a sensitive problem that has local leaders shying away from even discussing it. The Baltimore branch of the NAACP wouldn't even consider an interview with ABC2. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declined to talk about the topic.
Baltimore Police spokesman Lieutenant Eric Kowalcyzk wouldn't comment specifically about the knockout game, but told us generally, "Whatever the impetus for that crime, it's unacceptable that we have people being attacked for any reason and when that does happen we're going to do everything we can to fully investigate those cases. We're going to track down the people responsible and make sure they go to jail for those crimes."
Leaders outside Baltimore are acknowledging the knockout game as a legitimate
issue. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is among those who have made public comment.
"There's no excuse for this kind of behavior. It will not be tolerated here in the city," he said.
Activist Al Sharpton has also weighed in through his National Action Network, saying, "No matter who it is or where it is, we must denounce it."
For their part, Jonathan Lomaskin and his family want to discuss it, to open up a dialogue about the foundation of youth violence in the city. Kathy Lomaskin says, "If you have people in your community who lose their value for life, it's just a slippery slope at that point."
But Jonathan doesn't want to see the city he loves slide. He bears no bitterness or anger towards his attackers, who face trial in January. He tells ABC2 he wants anyone who would consider assault, for sport or other motive, to see his recovery as a tool for reeducation, an example that an attack can break bones but not a peaceful spirit.
"I still feel love for all of humanity after all of it," Lomaskin said.