Lowe's incident: Assailant convicted; plans to appeal

The man who hurled racial slurs at a local shopper and then punched her at Lowe's was convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery November 19 in Albemarle General District Court.

Frank Joseph Bennett, who was sentenced to 30 days in jail with 26 suspended, has appealed the conviction to Circuit Court, and a court date is set for April 11.

Ramona Bratcher was shopping for a peephole at Lowe's July 18 with her 17-year-old daughter. When her path crossed Bennett's for the third time on a ladder-clogged aisle, she said, "Excuse me." She later told The Hook that Bennett called her a racial slur several times before hitting her in the face.

In the police report, Bennett admitted he called Bratcher "nigger," but claimed she struck him in the face. He says Bratcher had already gotten by him, then came 20 feet back down the aisle to say, "You really think you don't have to move, do you?" and proceeded to berate him and call him "asshole."

"She got in my face and put her finger in my face and pressed it underneath my left eye," he says. When he moved her arm, "She clenched up and hit me," says Bennett. "My knee-jerk reaction was to strike back immediately."

He adds that Bratcher and her daughter admitted all that under cross examination, "except for striking me first."

After the trial, Bratcher says she's had a very "disappointing" week and declined to comment further on Bennett's conviction and appeal.

Bennett is less concerned about spending 48 hours in jail than having assault charges following him around. "I'm a big boy," he says. "I've decked people bigger than Ms. Bratcher."

And while Bennett does not deny his use of the N-word, he does deny being a racist.

"Absolutely not," he stresses. "I wish I could bring back my two black girlfriends or my black friends. Without blacks, I'd be pretty lonely."

His attorney, Adam Rhea, was quoted in the Daily Progress after the verdict as saying, "It's an understandable decision." He did not return numerous phone calls.