Gay congressional staffer Ben Fishel says he has no reason to believe the unidentified man who grabbed him by the neck from behind in a choke hold and then slashed his face about 2 a.m. on Sunday, July 19, targeted him because he’s gay.
But the attack that unfolded on the front steps of Fishel’s condo building in the 2100 block of 11th Street, N.W., after he had just walked home from the nearby Town gay nightclub, has become a mystery to D.C. police and people who learned about the incident from reports this week by Fox 5 News and WTOP Radio.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think I could recognize him if I saw him again,” Fishel told the Washington Blade, when asked about the person who attacked him.
Fishel said that while the male attacker did not make any reference to his sexual orientation and muttered something along the lines of “You ain’t shit,” he also did not attempt to take Fishel’s wallet or cell phone.
D.C. police spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump said the incident remains under investigation and that anyone who has information that could be helpful in identifying a suspect should call police at 202-727-9099.
Fishel told the Blade that one of the police officers investigating the case said police have obtained video from security cameras at a Crown gas station at Vermont and Florida avenues, N.W., where Fishel thinks he first crossed paths with the attacker, and from another condo building on the block where the attack took place.
He said the officer told him that due to possible malfunctioning of the camera, there was little that could be seen from the video taken at the Crown station. According to Fishel, the officer showed him the video from the condo building. Fishel said he could recognize himself and someone appearing to be following him, but the images of their faces were too blurred to be recognizable.
Police so far have not released the video for public viewing as they often do in other assault cases.
“We are unable to comment on evidence, as a matter of policy,” Crump told the Blade. “We only release video for the purposes of aiding in the investigation and the video must be of sufficient quality to aid in the investigation,” she said.
Fishel said the incident happened shortly after he and his husband left Town nightclub, which is located at 8th and U streets, N.W., shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday morning, July 19. He said the two walked together but separated after Fishel decided to stop in a convenience store at the Crown gas station and his husband chose to walk directly home.
He said he believes the man that eventually attacked him approached him outside the convenience store to ask if he would buy him a pack of cigarettes. Fishel said he declined the request and walked away without paying much attention to the man’s appearance other than that he was “huge.”
When he reached the steps of the building where he lives the attacker grabbed him tightly around the neck from behind.
“I may have pushed back,” said Fishel. “I was trying to break away because I could hardly breathe.”
He remembers being cut at least two times on the lower face by what he thinks was a box cutter, Fishel said. He said he didn’t realize the seriousness of the slashing until the attacker released him and ran away and Fishel entered his apartment and discovered his face was bleeding. His husband, who was home, called 911 and Fishel was taken to nearby Howard University Hospital, where he received at least 20 stitches for two deep wounds.
Fishel works as deputy chief of staff and communications director for U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.). Fishel and his husband, Andrew Brady, were in the news last September when the New York Times published a “celebrations” story about their Sept. 27 wedding alongside scenic Lake George in upstate New York.
The Times and other media reported that Fishel is the grandson of the late Andy Rooney, the longtime political commentator on the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”
Fishel said he talked to Fox News about the incident a little over a week after it happened because he thinks the public should know about this type of violent crime in an area where he didn’t expect such a thing to happen.