For the past seven weeks, Donna Martin has kept vigil at the bedside of her son, Christopher Charles Martin.
Some days Christopher, 27, is able to move his limbs and his eyes, and Martin believes he is trying to comfort her when he hears her cry.
“Christopher has always been a protector,” said Martin. “He is very protective of me, and all of his family members.”
An entrepreneur and musician who performs under the name Donn Sway, Christopher founded a mentoring business to help boys who want to play college football assemble their college application materials. He also helped take care of his grandmother “in her final stages of dementia,” and always stood up for his younger brother Tyler, who suffers from schizophrenia, Martin recalled.
On April 15, Christopher’s protectiveness nearly cost him his life after he was shot in the head while trying to defend friends during a “follow-home” robbery — a trend that has terrorized Angelenos since last year.
Distinguished by their coordination and brutality, the attacks target people leaving upscale restaurants, hotels or posh clubs. The perpetrators often send “spotters” — individuals who look for well-dressed people with expensive jewelry, luxury cars or Rolex watches — to alert other gang members who entrap the victims.
“In many cases, the victims are not even having a chance to comply [and hand over their valuables],” Captain Jonathan Tippet, head of the LAPD’s Follow-Home Robbery Task Force, told The Post. “They are being tackled, punched, hit and pistol-whipped.”
One of the suspects shot Martin in the head after he tried to stop the robbers, according to Detective Daryn Dupree of the LAPD Robbery Homicide Special Section. “When we got the call that night, we thought Christopher was not going to make it,” said Dupree, noting that the young man’s survival has surpassed medical expectations.
A star athlete who played college football on full scholarship for UC Davis, Martin came from San Diego to LA April 15 to celebrate the birthday of a former UC Davis football player whom he had mentored.
“Coming from San Diego, Christopher may not have realized what the temperature is here,” said Dupree, referring to the crime wave.
In 2021 the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division noticed a surge of robberies involving multiple armed suspects coordinating to ambush victims, according to Tippet. He said that up to 18 gangs from South LA are involved.
“In my 34 years with the LAPD I have never seen this type of criminal behavior,” said Tippet, “with people in large groups … up to five carloads of individuals, and most of them appear to be armed, coordinating amongst themselves to target people.”
There have been 254 “follow-home” attacks since January 2021, Tippet said, with 165 occurring in 2021 — 111 of them in the final four months of last year and 89 this year to date.
Alarmed by the trend, Tippet established the Follow- Home Robbery Task Force in late November 2021.
Neighborhoods hit hardest are Downtown LA, Hollywood and the Wilshire District, including Melrose, a high-end shopping area. Victims have frequently been tourists, including those from Israel, Korea, the UK, Australia, Maryland, Florida, Philadelphia and Detroit, said Tippet.
The LAPD has seen “some reduction” in the number of follow-home robberies, especially those with “so many vehicles involved,” with 66 taking place in the first four months of this year. (Over the past four weeks there were 15.)
According to Tippet, the “follow-home” crime surge is attributable at least in part to reluctance on the part of the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon to seek the stiffest possible sentences for suspected gang members. He has moved to deny “gang and gun enhancements” — provisions allowing prosecutors to seek longer prison sentences for gang-related crime or crime that causes grave bodily injury. Meanwhile, state policies have reduced bail requirement.
“State policy is allowing violent criminals to post bail and not return to court for months, and during that time we know many are committing violent crimes,” Tippet said. “We’ve re-arrested some individuals who were out on bail after they’ve committed the same types of violent crimes.”
This “social justice” reluctance to utilize existing law to seek the stiffest possible sentences for violent crime suspects reflects a stinging irony when the majority of victims of the violent follow-home gang robbery trend have been minorities, Tippet maintained. According to the LAPD’s latest figures, 45 percent have been Black, 11 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, 20 percent white, 17 percent other and 2 percent unknown.
“Hispanics, Blacks and Asians account for 62 percent of the victims of these violent armed gang robberies [since January 2021],” Tippet said. “[Gascon’s] saying he’s bringing social justice, but he isn’t bringing safety and protection to minorities.”
Gascon’s office sent a statement maintaining that they are “deeply concerned” about follow-home robberies and asserting that asking if their office’s policies could be contributing to the violent crime wave is “dishonest and preposterous.”
“No one is saying: I would commit a crime because I might get a 10 or 20-year sentence, but I won’t do it if I will get a 40-year sentence,” wrote a spokeswoman for Gascon’s office. “People are worried about getting caught, and we are working with our law enforcement partners to make sure that happens.”
Angelenos are critical of changes in the law and lax enforcement of existing law on the part of the Los Angeles County District Attorney.
Howard Rudich, 79, a recently retired Los Angeles jeweler, says he’s “relieved” to be out of business after 47 years due to the surge in break-ins and follow-home robberies. While jewelry salespeople often are robbed, the difference now is that “because the penalties are so relaxed, the gangs are emboldened to follow individual citizens … It’s an epidemic, and I link it to leftist policies. California leads the country in craziness.”
Rudich added, “Most jewelers keep quiet about this because they don’t want the publicity; it keeps customers out of the store.
But [most jewelers] are scared to death.”
The suspects were “watching and stalking” Christopher Martin’s group, which included several former and current UC Davis college football players and an older male relative of one, who was driving a rented luxury SUV for the birthday celebration, according to Dupree.
The group had just left Hyde Sunset, a restaurant-nightclub on the Sunset Strip. Dupree believes the suspects were drawn to the group because of the chains worn by two of the young men.
“Two of the guys had on a lot of jewelry,” said Dupree. “Gold. Christopher didn’t have any jewelry on. Christopher tried to stop them … But they were there to get the jewelry.”
After leaving the club at about 3 a.m., Christopher’s group walked to a lot on the Sunset Strip where they had parked because it was “less expensive” than parking at the club, said Dupree.
Christopher, who had come to the party in his own car, was standing outside the SUV and talking with the driver, when the suspects ran to the car, shouting “Give me the jewelry!” One of them pointed a gun at the driver — the older male relative of the man celebrating his birthday — “and Christopher yelled, ‘No! Stop!’” according to Dupree.
While it was “heroic” of Martin, who is a “special young man to try and intervene,” Dupree said, “We advise people to give up their jewelry or watches.”
He added, “I do respect the fact that Christopher tried to defend his friends—that shows the kind of person he is.”
Christopher’s mother Donna says that he is an “instinctually good person” who would have helped anyone.
She recalled that in 2019, when their family was out for dinner, Christopher “had a homeless man sit down with us” and said, ‘Tell me about your situation.’”
Christopher invited the man, who was about his age, to stay with him for a time, and gave him a suit to wear so he could interview to become a door-to-door salesman.
Had they approached him and his friends without threat of violence, Martin believes Christopher would have helped his attackers.
“My son is a college educated, kind soul, and very sensitive,” said Martin. “They could have said, ‘You seem like you’re doing good in life,’ and … asked him for his help, and he would have given it to them.”
She said she is angry, and “forgiveness will be easier once [the perpetrators] are caught.”
She believes anyone who participated in the crime should go to prison.
Martin, whose family has launched a GoFundMe to help cover Christopher’s medical expenses: speculated that the attackers “maybe didn’t have everything my son had, including a father, but that doesn’t excuse what they did, and what the District Attorney of Los Angeles [County] is doing for my son to be in this situation.
“I just want every person, no matter who they are, to serve time based on the crime.
“My son’s life is worth more than property and so is the life of any human being.”