Police: Soldier among 2 arrested in assault on Ohio homeless man, 2 other soldiers suspected

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Soldier arrested in assault on Ohio homeless man

CINCINNATI — Four men suspected of beating a homeless man sleeping under a bridge had been drinking when one of them suggested they go out and “kick somebody’s butt,” police said Tuesday in announcing the arrest of a soldier at Fort Knox.

Military police turned over 24-year-old Riley Feller to the Hardin County, Ky., sheriff’s office Tuesday. Feller was being held on a fugitive warrant at the county jail; a jail official did not know whether Feller has an attorney.

Cincinnati police say Feller, 24-year-old Michael Hesson of the Cincinnati area and two soldiers based at Fort Bragg, N.C., badly beat 52-year-old John Johnson on April 10 at a homeless encampment under a bridge.

Connie Shaffery, an Army spokeswoman, said Feller is a private with the 16th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Knox in Kentucky, where he has been stationed since late 2008. He will be arraigned Wednesday, pending extradition to Ohio.

Hesson was being held Tuesday in Hamilton County Jail on a charge of felonious assault, with bond of $5,000. His court-appointed counsel, David Donnett, declined to discuss what Hesson has said about the allegations, citing attorney-client confidentiality.

Police are getting arrest warrants for the two Fort Bragg soldiers, whose names weren’t immediately released, said Detective Kristen Shircliff.

Johnson said he was asleep early April 10 underneath tarps he had set up for shelter when he heard angry voices telling him he was trespassing. At first he thought they were police, but then the four men began cursing him, calling him a bum and beating him, he said. He suffered a fractured cheekbone after being hit with a pipe, he said, and had cuts and bruises over much of his body.

A friend helped Johnson get to a nearby gas station to call 911. He was taken to a hospital, where he stayed overnight.

Police say the three soldiers apparently were in town for the weekend and got together with Hesson and other people they knew.

Shircliff said Hesson told police that the four had been drinking earlier in the day, and one of the men was angry about something and suggested they go out and “kick somebody’s butt.”

Appeals for the public’s help in solving the crime led several people to contact police with information about the suspects, Shircliff said.

“They were bragging about what they had done, and apparently they had told a lot of people they were hanging out with that they wanted to go out and beat somebody’s butt,” she said.

She said they apparently then decided to target a homeless person and started down to the encampment under the bridge.

Johnson was hit in the head and other body parts with makeshift weapons and a baseball bat, Shircliff said. The suspects tore apart his encampment, she said.

“They didn’t know the man, and there was just no reason for this,” Shircliff said. “It was senseless.”

Johnson had been living on the streets of Cincinnati for more than two years and had worked temporary jobs occasionally.

“I could never earn enough to get off the street,” he said.

He is now in a “safe house” and has taken up a man’s offer to help find employment.

“It makes me feel a lot better to know that they think they have found the guys who did this,” Johnson said.

Associated Press reporters Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Beth Campbell in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.

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