A woman who was attacked last month in Downtown Long Beach is calling on the city to boost policing and urging the public to keep up pressure on the Los Angeles County District Attorney to take violent crime seriously.
Rebekah Pedersen was walking along Linden Avenue near East Broadway in the early afternoon on Oct. 20 when a man came up behind her, unzipped his pants and lifted her skirt, pressing himself against her and knocking her to the ground.
The incident was caught on camera, and within hours Long Beach police arrested Miguel Avila, 30, who is believed to be homeless. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of felony assault and misdemeanor sexual battery.
Pederson expressed frustration at a Tuesday morning press conference outside the Long Beach branch of the Los Angeles Superior Court, where Avila was due for a follow-up appearance. Pederson says she was frustrated that felony charges weren’t immediately filed against her alleged attacker and that officials seem to be giving him an excessive amount of consideration.
“I just can’t allow this to happen,” Pedersen said. “The charges on someone for attempted rape or rape are so little, (as if) he just robbed somebody, and this is taking someone’s dignity, this is taking over someone’s body — that’s just not okay.”
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The case ignited community outrage, not only because of safety concerns in Downtown, but also because the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office initially declined to charge the attack as a felony. Instead, the case was referred to Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, who only has authority to file misdemeanor charges.
Following a groundswell of public pressure and new evidence provided by the City Prosecutor, L.A. District Attorney George Gascón opted to prosecute the incident as a felony.
Pedersen said she’s angry that Avila’s case has been postponed so his mental health can be evaluated. Meanwhile, she said she doesn’t feel safe walking around town, so she plans to start therapy and take self-defense classes.
“I would like to see the mayor actually follow through and really get more cops,” she said. “We also need a DA that backs the cops when they arrest these people.”
Later on Tuesday, Long Beach officials were expected to announce specific steps they’ll be taking to improve safety in the Downtown area, where numerous business owners have reported break-ins. Some business owners have threatened to leave if conditions don’t improve.
Less than a week after Pedersen was assaulted, Mayor Rex Richardson said he would ask the county to provide more resources for unhoused people with mental health and substance abuse issues.
After Pedersen’s remarks, Long Beach resident Dawn Covarrubias took the microphone to describe the online petition she and other residents started to demand that the city do more to address crime and homelessness.
“They need to make this more of a priority. We need to see progress,” Covarrubias said.
The petition on Change.org calls for immediate housing options and mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities for the homeless, stepped-up law enforcement and more accountability for public money spent on homeless issues.