‘Madness’ Strikes Downtown
Attack leaves vendor badly injured
By Gregory Flannery
The circumstances of the vicious beating endured Jan. 24 by Robert Meehan were fraught with irony.
The attack occurred a few steps from the Metropole Apartments, purchased last year by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp (3CDC). Just days before being assaulted, Meehan wrote a letter to the editor of Streetvibes, criticizing 3CDC, which plans to convert the subsidized low-income apartments into a boutique motel.
The attack occurred soon after Meehan took training to become a vendor for Streetvibes, published by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Both the newspaper and the coalition have been publicizing a recent spate of hate crimes against homeless people in Cincinnati.
At about 3:48 a.m. Meehan was body-slammed, punched and struck with a beer bottle during what Cincinnati Police Lt. Michael John called an unprovoked attack. Three women stood and watched the assault, captured on a surveillance camera outside the Metropole.
For nearly two weeks Meehan was in a medically induced coma as a result of his injuries, which John described as so severe that he was surprised Meehan survived.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Homeless Coalition, launched a media blitz to bring attention to the attack and to encourage people to provide information for the suspect’s capture. The effort paid off when TV coverage led one of the three women who were present during the beating to contact police. John said police identified the other two women and interviewed all three of them.
“I think they felt some pressure to come forward, but none the less they were helpful,” John wrote in an e-mail to a TV reporter. “They were all shocked to see the nature of Mr. Meehan’s injuries.”
Equally shocking was the suspect’s behavior after the attack.
“The night of the incident, Madness was operating a white or cream colored late model Cadillac,” John wrote. “He actually drove the vehicle southbound on Walnut, passing Mr. Meehan (after the beating) before slowing outside the Subway to invite an unknown individual to the Anchor Grill in Covington.”
Police succeeded in tracking Madness to Las Vegas, Nev., where he was arrested Feb. 6. The suspect, now identified as Michael K. Taylor, is wanted in Cincinnati on a charge of felonious assault.
Spring visited Meehan at University Hospital on Feb. 8 after he was transferred out of the intensive-care unit.
“He will have to go through rehab,” Spring says. “He was markedly exhausted physically and mentally. He was in the office before this attack, and he spoke very fast. This time, if I didn’t talk, there wouldn’t be any conversation. Relative to what happened he’s doing very well, but it’s clear that this will change his life. He said he was having trouble trying to remember what happened. He asked me why someone would do this.”
Spring says he didn’t venture to answer Meehan’s question, but he has a theory. The assault on Meehan was the latest in a series of hate crimes against homeless people, according to Spring.
“Mr. Meehan has been known to have been homeless on the street as well as regularly moving from the home of one friend to another,” Spring says.
In fact, Spring learned of the assault during a forum on hate crimes sponsored by the Homeless Coalition.
Last year a homeless man was assaulted downtown by two drunken suburbanites, one of whom knocked a bottle of insulin out of the victim’s hand. The assailants were arrested and fined. Last month a homeless man was set on fire downtown by four youths. No one has yet been charged in that case (see “Set Afire,” issue of Jan. 15-31).
Spring says these cases, like a series of stun-gun attacks in Cleveland, point to the need for hate-crimes laws to protect homeless people. Bills are pending in Congress and in the Ohio General Assembly. Spring says Cincinnati City Council should also pass an ordinance including homeless people as a protected class.
“People who are homeless are one group that it’s still OK to hate,” he says. “We’re hoping at the local level someone will put forth a motion to protect people based on housing status. It doesn’t do a lot because municipalities can only affect misdemeanors but it does signal to the state government that it’s important. We’re hoping this will be a wake-up call. It’s gotten progressively worse. It’s important Cincinnati doesn’t forget. We had a man almost beat to death. If we don’t do something now, it’s going to get worse. This should be an eye-opener for everybody.”