There are rough nights, and then there are rough nights. Chris Fontenelle had them both on June 19.
It didn’t start out that way. At about 6:30 p.m., he and his girlfriend were about to leave for a night of fun in Atlantic City. Fontenelle had $1,000 in his wallet. They were on Euclid Street NW near 11th, heading toward his car, when a man pulled a gun on Fontenelle. “He aimed it really close to my chest,” he says.
So close, in fact, that the mark was able to get his hands on the top of the gun and push it down. Fontenelle, who says he has knowledge of the specific weapon used, knew that if he held both hands tightly on the top of the gun, he could prevent it from cocking and firing. Not about to give up the grand in his wallet easily, he was able to put the safety on and then release the clip. “His mistake was he went for the clip” when it dropped, says Fontenelle. “It gave me more of an upper hand.”
With the two stalemated, the mugger made Fontenelle an offer. “‘Let go of the pistol, and I’ll let you go. I have a son,’” he recalls the perp saying. “He gave me his word. I said, ‘No—you go with the clip; I go with the pistol.’ We tussled a little more, and then he let it go.” His girlfriend had already run up Euclid; Fontenelle darted across the street, almost into the path of a car. The mugger ran into a nearby alley.
Fontenelle called 911 and told them he’d been mugged but had taken the gun and that the perp was still in the area; the alley has a dead end, and Fontenelle hadn’t seen him come out. He described a young black male with a red T-shirt and dark-green pants. His girlfriend called her mother, who also called 911. A radio call went out.
Fontenelle is 26, black, and was wearing a red LeBron James jersey. He collects jerseys; his most prized is an O.J. Simpson from his days at USC.
The account of what happened next is based on police documents and interviews with Fontenelle and a police employee who was on the scene. Four officers spoken to for this article were familiar with the incident; they say the story has quickly spread through the force.
Officer Ebony White saw Fontenelle, who has no criminal record, walking south on the 2600 block of 11th Street, carrying the pistol and talking on his cell phone. She told him to drop the gun, which he did. He told her that he had been mugged and had taken the gun from his assailant. She cuffed and searched him.
Sgt. Sean Pipia arrived on the scene and ordered Fontenelle arrested and charged with carrying a pistol without a license. He called for a transfer vehicle to take Fontenelle, now under arrest, to the station. “I said, ‘Look, y’all got it twisted,’” says the victim-turned-suspect, “but I had a gun in my hand, so I understand.”
White confirmed with the dispatcher that Fontenelle had in fact called 911. He was put in the back of the cruiser anyway.
Another officer talked to his girlfriend’s mother by cell phone and confirmed that she had called as well. During her search, White had missed the phone and a pocketknife Fontenelle always carries. From the back of the cruiser and with his hands still cuffed, he was able to put the phone on speaker and call his girlfriend for help. The cops heard him making the call and re-searched him, this time confiscating the knife and phone.
He was taken to the station and held, though he says he was more worried about the time cops were wasting in finding his attacker than his incarceration. “I wasn’t worried about the cops, because when you’re right, the truth will come out,” says Fontenelle. “They were actually pretty cool. One cop kept the door open for me because I told him I’m claustrophobic.”
But they weren’t all cool. Pipia, according to police documents, recommended charging Fontenelle with possession of the knife once he realized the pistol charge wouldn’t stick. The detectives and lieutenants, according to the paperwork, rejected the idea.
Pipia says he can’t respond to the charge without the department’s permission, which is not forthcoming. “He’s going to be unavailable to speak, because we’re not confirming or denying the matter,” says Officer Junis Fletcher of the public affairs office.
Fontenelle says he had a feeling the mugging wasn’t random, that someone had tipped off the attacker to his wad of cash. Once he was released, he asked the cops to escort him home. “They said they didn’t have the manpower,” he says. “So that was too bad.”
He returned home with his girlfriend to Bryant Street NW in Bloomingdale at about 9:30 that night, still planning to go to Atlantic City and turn his luck around.
Walking toward his house, he saw two men dressed in black pointing guns at him, one of them, he thought, equipped with a silencer. His girlfriend again took off, and Fontenelle ducked behind a car. Thinking of the silencer, he thought better of another tussle, and surrendered. The men put their guns to each side of his head and demanded his money. He told them the cops had taken it, but the second round of muggers wasn’t buying it.
They told him to take them into his house, a demand he refused. “There are lessons of the street. There’s some things you just don’t do,” says Fontenelle. “I wasn’t going to go anywhere. They could kill me right there, but I wasn’t getting in any cars or going in the house.”
For his refusal, he says, he was struck on the side of his head, which left a scar behind his ear. Another blow went to his ribs; he says he hasn’t been able to work since.
The men found the money and split. Fontenelle never made it to Atlantic City. He called the cops again; this time, he wasn’t arrested.
He’s not too upset over the whole ordeal. Fontenelle says he has no intention of suing the cops or of filing a civilian complaint. “I’m not gonna go after a cop unless they just brutally beat the crap out of me,” he says. “I just try to stay as far away from cops as possible.