Oakland salon beating trial set for April

January 15, 2010 9:00:59 PM PST
The beating of a Oakland hair salon owner Melissa Seals got a lot of attention last year when it was posted on the Internet. Two women have been charged with battery and false imprisonment, but the wheels of justice are spinning too slowly for the victim.

The trial for one of the suspects is set for April. The victim's cuts and bruises have healed over the past eight months, but the attack is still taking a physical, emotional, and financial toll on her.

Seals could not bring herself to attend the pre-trial hearing in Alameda County Superior Court this week; she could not face defendant Cavenia Bryant.

"Those court dates, it's too much for me," said Seals.

It all began last May. Bryant and four other women enter Seals' east Oakland salon; one takes out a video camera. Bryant starts punching Seals and the attack continues for five minutes. Bryant pulls out Seals' hair, follows her around the store, and delivers more hard shots. Another woman keeps Seals from leaving, then repeatedly kicks her in the head.

This week, a judge set an April trial date for Bryant on misdemeanor battery and false imprisonment charges -- a possible 16-month sentence. Her lawyer turned down an offer from the prosecution for one year in county jail.

"Ms. Bryant lost her temper, OK, that is a minor incident in my opinion," said Bryant's defense attorney David Kelvin. " You pick up a bat or an object, you hit somebody with it, that's serious, OK. Kids in school every day have fist fights, OK, you don't talk about giving them in a year in the county jail for that."

The prosecutor declined to appear on camera, but he says the attack was no fist fight -- it was an ambush in which Seals never threw a punch. She is still feeling the effects.

"I'm just constantly having anxiety attacks where I can't control them and I'm just sick every day," said Seals.

In fact, a psychologist diagnosed Seals as having post-traumatic stress disorder. She writes, "Although Ms. Seals was not seriously physically injured in the assault, the emotional and psychological damage is significant."

Because of constant nausea, Seals has dropped 28 pounds since we first met her just after the attack. She says her business is another big source of stress; it's on the verge of bankruptcy because of the attack. She has lost 75 percent of her clients.

"Some people have children... I think it's mainly because they're scared," she said.

"At first I was scared. I was thinking OK, what if my kids come here, too?" said Latanya Ashley, one of Seals' few remaining customers. "It's like she's getting a double sock, you know what I'm saying? And it's like it's never going to end for her and I know how she feels. That's why I still come."

Business is so bad at the salon, we happened to be there last week when the East Bay Municipal Utility District shut off the water. To make matters worse, Seals has seen another suspect, Jaymillya Edgerton, the one who kicked her in the head, in her neighborhood several times since the attack. Edgerton has an arrest warrant, but police have not picked her up.

"If she's that comfortable being around here then they should make sure she goes to jail," said Seals.

But the one she blames the most for her troubles is the woman who took the video and posted it on the Internet.

"She ruined my life," said Seals, who believes the video was more damaging than the punches.

Seals sees the video most every time she goes online -- on news, social networking and hip-hop sites. She even stumbled across a new rap video featuring the attack.

"I do not want to be on anybody's rap video getting beat up like that," she said. "I am somebody."

Bryant's attorney also says she does not have a criminal record. Seals wants you to see one other piece of evidence -- a picture showing how Bryant pulled out her hair. Read more on that in a new I-Team blog here.