Disabled vet faces attack charge
Retiree, 66, says he was defending self
By SETH ROBSON, MARCUS KLÖCKNER AND MARCUS KLöCKNER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 23, 2009
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — A disabled U.S. military retiree living in Bavaria is facing prosecution — and a 9,000-euro penalty — for what he says was defending himself from an attack outside a Nuremberg bar in 2007.
Leroy Washington, 66, said the incident occurred in the early hours of April 12, 2007, as he left the bar with a female friend.
"Two young men were standing outside the bar," Washington said. "One said: ‘Hey, Du Schwarzer! (Hey, black man!).’ I turned around and said, ‘What’s the problem?’ and all of a sudden he kicked me in the stomach with the flat part of his foot. He kicked like a professional kick-boxer. I just went into shock."
Washington — who said he was discharged from the Army after 13 years of service with 100 percent disability due to high blood pressure, arthritis and prostate problems — said he opened his car, removed a 4-inch knife and showed it to his attacker.
"He saw the knife and pulled out his belt and swung the buckle and hit me on the head," Washington said. "He went to hit me again and I cut him on the hand with the knife."
After he and his friend took refuge in the car, the alleged assailant, along with several other men attacked the outside of the vehicle as Washington drove from the scene, he said.
"I went to the [German police] and told them my story straight away," the former Army chef said. "I had a bump on my head the size of a golf ball.
"They did an alcohol test and I was sober. The Polizei said they would investigate, and 30 minutes later they told me my attacker was in hospital."
In November — some seven months after the incident — German authorities charged Washington with assault.
The 98-page police report states that the man injured in the incident was Mergim Osmanaj, a 36-year-old Serbian nightclub bouncer. Police records show that Osmanaj has 14 previous police incidents, including seven assaults, and that he has served prison time for a previous attack.
In the police report, Osmanaj says that Washington started an argument outside the bar, then pulled a knife out of his car and attacked. Osmanaj claims he used his belt in self-defense and only struck Washington with the leather end of it.
German prosecutors did not charge Osmanaj because witnesses have not come forward to back up Washington’s story. Washington said his female companion had her back turned and did not witness the initial kick that caused Washington to grab the knife.
Washington was charged because there is clear evidence that Osmanaj was injured by a knife, the police report states.
He said it’s preposterous to suggest that he could attack anybody.
"I’m 66 years old. I’m 100 percent disabled. No way I’m going to attack anybody for racial abuse. I’m a big guy, but I take 13 pills a day for my disabilities. I can’t fight anybody. With my arthritis these days, I can hardly get around," he said.
At 6 foot, 1 inch and 205 pounds, Washington said he wished he could have run away from the shorter but more muscular Serb.
"If you can run away from a fight, then run," he said. "The problem with me ... I could not run. Sometimes I can’t hardly walk. I had to defend myself.
"Now it seems like I’m going to suffer the consequences," Washington said, adding that Osmanaj’s lawyer has written to him asking for 3,000 euros in compensation to cover hospital bills and 6,000 euros for "pain and suffering."
A German prosecutor who gave only his last name — Pucher — said last week that the case was under review and he could not comment about ongoing cases.
Volker Erb, a criminal law professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, said that if there was not enough evidence to press charges against Osmanaj, the same logic must be applied to Washington.
Furthermore, German law states that a person can do whatever is necessary to protect himself, Erb said.
It’s not a matter of using proportionate force, as is often falsely understood, he said. "When two men attack me and I am in serious danger, I even could use a gun to defend myself."
German law also clearly states that a victim does not have to prove he acted in self-defense: The onus is on the prosecution to prove the victim did not act in self-defense, Erb said.
Washington’s trial on the assault charges is set for Feb. 5 in Nuremberg.
John Vandiver contributed to this report.