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Assault on a Choir

January 15, 2007

A cappella isn't considered an extracurricular activity with much risk of physical danger, but don't tell that to the The Baker’s Dozen of Yale University. Members of the singing group were beaten by local youths after a New Year's Eve concert in San Francisco, resulting in one member having his jaw broken in two places, while others received black eyes, a sprained ankle and a severe concussion.

Oddly to many, no arrests were made at the time of the assaults and the victims were not interviewed formally by police. The Baker’s Dozen are currently on a West Coast tour and, after media coverage and outrage, investigators from the San Francisco Police Department agreed to interview some of the victims in Los Angeles on Friday.

“Arrests should have been made on the scene,” said Whitney Leigh, a partner with the San Francisco firm Gonzalez and Leigh, which is representing the victims. Leigh said that members of the Baker’s Dozen left a party in small groups and were attacked outside the residence where they performed. The attackers were friends and brothers of someone at the party who became angry with the Yale students.

When the police showed up, at least two of the Yale victims identified several of the assailants to officers. Leigh said that it’s a mystery as to why the police did not take formal statements, nor make arrests at the scene.

From reports by the local ABC news affiliate, the main instigator of the attacks was identified as the son of a prominent San Francisco pediatrician.

In videos shot by the San Francisco ABC affiliate, and now posted online, one Yale student, Sharyar Aziz, can be seen during the interview with his jaw wired shut. According to Aziz and other people interviewed, the party got out of control after a local youth apparently became angry because the students from Yale were capturing all the attention at the party.

“It was a lot of ‘Get our of here, you don’t belong here.’ There was some reference to ‘This is the 4-1-5,’ ” Aziz said during the interview, a reference to the city's telephone area code.

The main instigator of the assault phoned some friends who then waited outside for the Yale students to leave, according to reports in local news media.

Contacted at her home on Saturday, Sharyar's mother, Laura Aziz, said that her son was hit from behind and then kicked repeatedly while on the ground. While they are not sure which blow might have broken Sharyar's jaw, doctors expect him to make a full recovery to have his jaw unwired in another two months. Mrs. Aziz said that her son has lost weight on a liquid diet, but he expects to take a full course load when classes begin on Tuesday. While Sharyar has made it known that he is available for questioning, detectives with the San Francisco police department have not made any attempt to question him or show him photos to learn the identity of his attackers.

An investigative reporter for ABC’s San Francisco affiliate, Dan Noyes, poked through police reports after the incident occurred. “The police knew at the time that there were some serious injuries,” he told Inside Higher Ed.

Noyes said that he has gotten conflicting reports from the police and that the incident may just be a case of a department that was stretched too thin on New Year’s Eve. He added that there was no proof that the Yale students instigated the incident or even fought back, and he described the affair as less of a “fight” than an “ambush.”

Left unanswered is why the police appear to have been dragging their feet to pursue the case. But after almost two weeks of media controversy, Noyes said that the department is grudgingly pursuing the matter.

San Francisco police did not respond to several calls seeking comment.

 

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