Freed by judge: Greenleaf perp out, strikes again
The incident in Greenleaf Park last winter made jaws drop. A man assaulted a young mother in the presence of her baby. What happened in court made jaws drop again. Last month, Robert Terrell Haskins was convicted of a misdemeanor rather than a felony for the assault and released from jail after only six months.
Now that he's been arrested again after threatening a female jogger downtown, police are calling Haskins "a threat to women in this community" and say he's been involved in at least two other incidents.
A woman was running on Locust Avenue last Thursday, October 9, when a man suddenly appeared behind her, police say.
"She told the man he was making her uncomfortable and to please get away," says Charlottesville police Captain Chip Harding. The woman ran faster, and so, too, did the man following her so that he "appeared to be chasing her."
The woman screamed and ran into a building and called 911. "He takes off running and takes off his jacket" to avoid being recognized, says Harding.
When Haskins, 19, was stopped on the Downtown Mall for questioning, he struggled with police, according to Harding. Haskins is in the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail charged with parole violation and obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor.
The Downtown Mall was the site of Haskins' arrest for the Greenleaf Park attack on December 30, when he knocked to the ground a 34-year-old mother who was taking her 16-month-old baby for a walk.
That broad-daylight attack, which came as the news about Charlottesville's still-at-large serial rapist filled the papers, shocked area residents. Police initially believed the woman's attacker might be the rapist, and a sketch of the assailant was posted all over town.
But it was the woman herself who spotted her attacker three months later, on March 17, when she saw him walk by while she was having lunch at Christian's Pizza on the Downtown Mall.
Police arrested Haskins, who admitted he'd attacked the mother in the park. He was charged with attempted rape, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years– although he was ruled out as the serial rapist.
Last month in Charlottesville Circuit Court, substitute Judge Joseph Spinella found Haskins guilty only of misdemeanor sexual battery– and police are outraged.
"I was in complete shock," says Harding. "[Haskins] gave Detective [Randy] Higgins a statement introduced in court that he intended to rape this woman but didn't, only because she fought him off so strongly. He feared the police and changed his appearance... For any judge to view that and not see it as attempted rape bothers me."
Assistant commonwealth's attorney Ron Huber was similarly disappointed with the verdict. "With the force of the attack and his statement, we thought this was an attempted rape," Huber says.
Misdemeanor sexual battery carries a maximum sentence of 12 months, and Haskins, who'd been in jail for six months, was released on parole with credit for time served.
This further infuriates Harding. "He's out in the community, and he won't be on a sexual predator list. If this is the only thing he's ever done wrong, he can still carry firearms, he has no supervision and no counseling."
In his statement to Detective Higgins on March 17, Haskins said he'd never been in trouble except for a time he ran away from home.
"I left Thursday and my mom found me Saturday at a reggae club," he said.
Haskins said he attended Grafton in Winchester, a school that prepares individuals with disabilities such as autism, mental retardation, and behavioral, learning, and emotional disorders, to live and function as independently as possible, according to its website.
"It's like a mental home up there, and I was in because I had– well, I'm not an average smart kid. I'm like LD," Haskins told Higgins.
On December 30, Haskins allegedly failed to take his medication. "I do have seizures, and when I have seizures, I do wild stuff," he told police. "I can't, I can't control myself. And I guess I scared her or did something like that, but I didn't mean to."
Haskins, who lives on Charlton Avenue, said he ducked into Greenleaf Park because he had to go to the bathroom.
He asked the woman if there was a bathroom, and after he urinated outside the restroom's locked door, he asked her how she was doing. Then he said, "You've got a nice ass," according to his statement to police.
"It triggered me. I, I, I, I just smacked her ass, that's about it, then I walked off," he says.
Haskins admitted to Higgins that he was aroused and wanted to have sexual relations with a woman– but he denied that he would do it without the woman's consent.
He demonstrated to Higgins how he knocked the woman down. He said that he left because she fought back and was screaming and the baby was crying. He said she told him, "Get off me, please."
Haskins said the baby was in a stroller, and when Higgins asked if he'd do anything to hurt the baby, he responded, "Oh, no sir!"
Afterward, Haskins said he felt "sort of sad. I went home and cried and took all my medicine, and then I realized I did something wrong."
He also said he took off his shirt and Skechers tennis shoes so police wouldn't recognize him.
"His conduct did not rise to the level of attempted rape," says Haskins' attorney, Joe Platania. "He happened to be passing through the park, he had to pee, and he talked to the woman. He hadn't taken his medicine that day and lost it and jumped on her, but he wasn't going to force her."
"This is an outrage for the victim," says Harding. "This was a violent sexual assault. She identified him, and she appeared in court to testify when she was close to delivering a baby." He believes that with the "facts and overwhelming evidence before 100 judges, 99 plus would find the defendant guilty."
"[Haskins'] conduct was illegal and inappropriate, but he was not guilty of attempted rape," maintains Platania.
"I'm very glad to have it behind me, but I have a new baby, and I don't want to go into it again," says the victim. And of the verdict? "Obviously I was disappointed."
Haskins, reached on the telephone at home October 9, said he's satisfied with the sentence that gave him the six months served in jail rather than 20 years. As for what happened that day in Greenleaf Park, he told a reporter to hold on and then asked, "Mom, what should I do?" And then, "Ma, don't hang it up."
Haskins' mother did not return a phone call from The Hook. Later that same day, Haskins was arrested following the Locust Avenue incident.
That wasn't the first time he's threatened a woman on Locust, according to police. On February 18 around 3:30pm, a juvenile female reported a black male running behind her who grabbed her buttocks, according to Harding. Around 4pm that same day, a woman on Jefferson Street reported a black male following her and making sexually suggestive remarks.
Haskins allegedly admitted to police that he was the male in both of those cases. He was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery for the Locust Avenue assault and sentenced to 12 months in jail with 10 suspended.
"There are four events that we know of where women were placed in fear and in some cases, physically attacked," says Harding. "This man poses an obvious threat to the women in this community."
Harding says Haskins' behavior "paints a picture of a compulsion he's unable to control, but he knows it's wrong. It's the same with the serial rapist. An individual like that needs to be incapacitated."
Police and prosecutors were fuming that Robert Terrell Haskins was convicted of a misdemeanor rather than felony attempted rape for his attack of a woman in Greenleaf Park– and that was before he allegedly threatened another woman last week.
PHOTO COURTESY CHARLOTTESVILLE POLICE
[As published in the Hook's print edition, the original version of this story contained an error regarding Virginia's maximum sentence for the crime of attempted rape.]