Assault at Lowe's: Woman allegedly punched, called racial slurs

When Ramona Bratcher went shopping for a peephole at Lowe's last July, she didn't expect she'd end up being verbally abused and punched in the face by a stranger.

Bratcher was shopping with her 17-year-old daughter, Dèjan. They'd found the new ceiling fan and backdoor light they needed, but they were having a hard time finding the peephole section.

A Lowe's employee directed them down an aisle that was partially blocked by a big ladder and a man. Bratcher says she said, "Excuse me," and went past the man. "He didn't look like he wanted to move," says Bratcher.

Unable to find the peepholes, Bratcher, 45, and her daughter had to pass the man two more times, saying "Excuse me" each time, according to Bratcher.

On the third time, says Bratcher, the man, Frank Joseph Bennett, 40, of Ruckersville, stood in front of her and said, "Blow it out your ass, nigger."

"I said, 'Don't call me racial slurs,'" recounts Bratcher. "He said, 'Get your finger out of my face, nigger' twice, and hit me in the face."

Dèjan says Bennett's blow to her mother's left eye sent her glasses flying 20 feet.

Bennett has an unlisted phone number, and The Hook was unable to contact him. In the police incident report, Bennett told police he was looking at merchandise when Bratcher said, "You don't think you have to move," according to county spokesperson Lee Catlin.

In the report, Bennett is quoted as saying, "Get away, nigger," and then claims that Bratcher struck him in the face.

"The officer saw no evidence he'd been struck," says Catlin.

Meanwhile, Bratcher says, she realized her eye was closing and there was blood on her face, shirt, and in a puddle on the floor.

Cynthia Thornton, who was shopping in Lowe's, heard the verbal exchange and called 911, according to Bratcher. Thornton, who did not return The Hook's phone call, told police she saw Bennett strike Bratcher.

Both Ramona and Dèjan Bratcher said Lowe's employees did not intervene until finally, when it appeared Bennett was approaching Ramona Bratcher again, one stepped in. Lowe's public relations did not return The Hook's call.

"Then [Bennett] asked the Lowe's guy if he worked there, as if nothing had happened," says Ramona.

Bennett was initially charged with felonious assault, but the magistrate reduced the charges to misdemeanor assault and battery, which carries up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of $2,500.

What puzzles the Bratchers is why Bennett was not charged under Virginia's hate crime statute. Ramona says assistant commonwealth's attorney Richard DeLoria told her it was because Bennett didn't single her out.

"We reviewed all the facts, and all the elements of that [Virginia Code] subsection pertaining to hate crimes were not met," says DeLoria. Bennett's court date is October 15.

"That really aggravates me why it wasn't a hate crime, as many times as he called her 'nigger,'" says Dèjan Bratcher. "I'm very angry about that."

Both mother and daughter were shaken by the alleged attack. Dèjan says she's more paranoid now. "He didn't look like a monster," she says. "I've never seen a man hit my mother. I couldn't do anything to protect her." Ramona says Dèjan started sleeping with her after the assault.

Ramona Bratcher grew up with domestic abuse. "You can keep domestic abuse out of your house, but how can you protect yourself from a complete stranger in public?" she asks.

Besides the emotional costs, Bratcher suffered out of pocket costs. Her insurance didn't entirely cover the emergency room visit and x-rays she needed, and she had to take a day off work, buy new glasses, and consult an attorney.

As a registered nurse, Bratcher is used to dealing with a wide variety of people. Now, she says, "I feel real vulnerable, and my confidence level is low. "I'm a single mom, and I don't like that."

And she has to ponder, "What do you do when 'Excuse me' doesn't work?"