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Questions raised over Virginia newspaper's delay in report of attack on reporters

The Virginian-Pilot newspaper of Norfolk, Va., waited two weeks before reporting that two white reporters were beaten by a group of young black men. And since the story came out, the city’s police department has defended its handling of the case.

Columnist Michelle Washington broke the news of the April 14 attack on reporters Dave Forster and Marjon Rostami in the May 1 edition of the newspaper. 

“Wave after wave of young men surged forward to take turns punching and kicking their victim,” Washington wrote.

Washington and a police report obtained by NBC station WAVY indicate the reporters were driving away after attending a rock concert at the Attucks Theater. When they stopped at a red light among a crowd of about 100 people, Rostami locked her car door. Someone threw a rock at her window.

Forster stepped from the car to confront the rock thrower but was punched by him and several other black males, the police report says. When Rostami tried to reach over the driver’s seat and pull Forster back into the car, she was struck in the head, cheek and eye areas by a black assailant standing outside the car, the police report says.

After the pair managed to lock themselves in the car, the crowd thinned and Rostami called 911, police reports said.

The two suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene by paramedics. They told Washington that a responding police officer did not take witness names and told Rostami to shut up, and that the attackers were probably teenagers from nearby public housing. The officer gave them his card and told them to complete the report on the following Monday.

The 911 call came at 11:08 p.m., Officer Chris Amos, Norfolk police spokesman, told msnbc.com. An officer was there by 11:09 p.m., he said. Other units followed, and their lights and sirens likely caused anyone remaining in the crowd to scatter, he said.

Amos told msnbc.com that the responding officer decided to leave the pair to respond to another call – reports of shots fired amid a crowd – after determining Forster and Rostami were safe and advising them to leave the area. They did come in the following Monday to complete the report, he said.

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The officer involved, Amos said, denies the quotes attributed to him in Washington’s story, which he called editorial comment. There was no delay by the police in providing information on the case, he said.

Norfolk police respond to attack 

“From the very beginning we have been actively involved in this investigation," Amos said. "No arrests have been made.”

Many people were on the street late that Saturday because several events got out at once, Amos said. Many in the crowd that Forster and Rostami encountered live in neighborhoods adjacent to the venues and were walking home, not loitering, Amos said.

Amos said he suspected anyone, regardless of race, who had gotten out of a car to confront the rock thrower would have seen the same result.

Virginian-Pilot editor's memo to staff regarding the attack

Forster told Washington he had seen one Tweet linking his case to revenge for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teen fatally shot by community watch captain George Zimmerman in Florida.

“(Do it for Trayvon Martin),” it said.

Critics accused the paper of burying the attack over race relations. But Pilot Editor Denis Finley, in a memo to the staff obtained by WAVY, said, "We did not cover up anything. We bend over backwards to treat ourselves the same way we would treat any other member of the community. ... We have done our due diligence with the story." 

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