Absence of Justice in brutal attack at Revels Funeral Home
By Phoenix Staff
In the middle of the June heat of last year, a couple (Monica Revels and Jeff Yeomans) were beaten in the funeral home they own and manage on Eagle St. in Cornhill. Ms. Revels was beaten within an inch of her life.
The attackers happened to be the Black family members of the deceased, customers who were attending the service of their relative. As this attack escalated, police arrived to secure the area. Police observed much of the violence, were told by the victims who the assailants were, and took down the information. Revels and Yeomans were hospitalized as a result of their injuries sustained in the brutal attacks.
In the process, the mob invaded and vandalized the business, violated the sanctuary, disturbed the sanctity of the human body, and disrupted the funeral service.
What’s more troubling is how at every stage of this incident the system has seemingly failed this couple. Their early pleas for police security went unheeded, their business was vandalized and defamed, and their privacy at the hospital was violated. The victims feel that their request for justice has been ignored.
To this date, only two out of a mob of attackers have been arrested. The family never paid for the funerary care of the body, the services nor the burial of their loved one. There has been little consequence for the brutality and destruction which took place.
A Brief History
Monica Revels inherited Revels’ Funeral Home from her father, Thomas, who died in October of 2014. It was 1992 when Mr. Revels and his wife moved to the Utica area and he acquired the Gibson Funeral Service, Inc. He then established the T. Revels-Gibson Funeral Service, Inc., where, for the next 20 years, he served the community with great care and compassion.
While she was a successful businesswoman in NYC, Monica Revels decided to keep the funeral home running as a tribute to her father and still-living mother, Synita. Monica’s boyfriend, Jeff Yeoman of Syracuse, is a partner in the operation of the funeral home as well.
It’s worth noting that Revels’ Funeral Home is the only Black-owned funeral home in the entire county. In fact, T. Revels-Gibson Funeral Service has the distinction of being the oldest Black business in Oneida County.
There is also a unique significance surrounding funeral homes in American culture. The right to properly bury their dead was one of the autonomous functions that slaves were allowed early on. It was an element of segregation in the South that Whites did not want to touch, teach or treat Blacks. During the Civil War, slaves and Black soldiers did much of the burying and embalming of the many dead soldiers on battlefields, thus gaining the necessary funerary parlor skills. After the Civil War, funeral homes were one of the key self-owned industries that Black Americans possessed.
The Revels’ Funeral Home, therefore, plays a key role for the Black community here in Utica as a bastion of Black culture. Yet, when its owners were attacked and their business put in jeopardy, they received little attention.
The sequence of events:
In early June, a 50-year-old woman named Felicia Frazier died. Hers was a gradual death. Her body had deteriorated badly by the time she finally passed. Her family called upon the services of the T. Revels Gibson Funeral Home for burial. Frazier’s mother, Mrs. Thompson, requested a direct burial with no embalming as the body was already decomposing. The burial was to take place on Friday the 12th.
Wednesday the 10th
Ms. Revels recounted when Mrs. Thompson came by: “She came in to formally finalize the arrangements and asked if she could view her daughter one more time. We agreed that she could have that private moment with her daughter’s body on Thursday, 11 June, 2020. We explained to her that though the body had been kept according to industry-standard that with no embalming having taken place, Felicia’s body was decaying and that the mother would need to sign a waiver.” The mother declined.
Thursday the 11th
It was a shock to the proprietors when the next day there were thirty to forty relatives of the Thompson and Pearson families outside of the Funeral Home expecting a wake to view the body for that very day. Mrs. Thompson had apparently changed her mind about having a direct burial and now wanted a service unbeknownst to the business operators.
Monica and Jeff explained again to Mrs. Thompson, that though her family was insisting, that no wake had been planned and none could legally be held at this point. Furthermore, with Covid restrictions in effect, only an extremely small number of people could attend an actual service inside of the building.
Several female members of the family returned to the Funeral Home three different times that day and demanded to see the deceased. The business owners report that they were pounding on the doors and cursing them out for not letting them in.
After family members began threatening to burn the establishment to the ground, Monica and Jeff called the police. A UPD patrol car responded and drove around the property resulting in the family members leaving. They returned later to threaten legal action by a cousin who is supposedly a Syracuse attorney.
Revels and Yeomans agreed to a funeral service that no more than 25 family members could attend for the next morning. Yeomans then spent that evening preparing the deceased even though it was to be a closed casket service.
Marcus Reed, who has lived in Utica for 38 years, is an assistant at the FH and was called in the previous day to help out and was present when the family members were threatening to burn the building if their demands were not met. Reed heard one of the family members say, “One way or another, we’re gonna get to see her body. That casket will be open”.
It’s important to remember that Felicia Frazier’s body had not been embalmed as the family had only requested a direct burial and that displaying the body at this point would violate the law. The family had the right to view the body by signing a waiver, but for whatever reason, the Pearson and Thompson family wouldn’t sign.
Friday the 12th
At 7:30 AM, the proprietors called the UPD and requested police presence for the event scheduled for the next day in case of any further acts of aggression. At the time of writing this, Monica is requesting phone records from her phone provider to confirm her claim that she called for police security. According to the Funeral Home staff, no police were present for security. The Assistant DA has said that the UPD were in fact in the area for security. If that’s the case, then the staff were unaware of UPD being in the area, therefore it clearly wasn’t the level of security requested. Monica and Jeff expected squad cars to be parked at the FH as a visual deterrent.
Family members and friends of the deceased began arriving at 11 o’clock for a noon service. Ms. Revels had to strongly refuse the family’s request to have 25 people enter the building as that would incur a massive fine. While only around six relatives were allowed to sit and stay, Jeff reported that almost 60-70 relatives waded into the building none were wearing masks.
As the service ended and the deceased’s body was to be moved to the hearse, Yeomans began ushering people out. He came upon one of the deceased’s granddaughters sitting in a chair. She told him she wasn’t leaving and that she would have to be escorted out by police. Jeff said, “Alright, I’ll call them [police] now” and walked away.
It was at that moment Jeff was attacked by approximately 20 members of the family. He reports that they were punching and hitting him from all sides and from behind and forced him against the wall. Yeomans’ injuries corroborate this account.
Funeral assistant Marcus Reed saw the attack unfold, and was surprised as he knew the deceased and her immediate relatives well and said that this behavior was uncharacteristic of them. “They are a very outstanding family, but to this day all the events that happened are a shocker to me.”
As the attack happened, Reed immediately called 911 from the office. He says he called 911 six to seven times but they still didn’t respond.
Two male members of the family pulled Yeomans out of the fray and attempted to end the attack. Ms. Revels entered the main chapel to witness the attack. Revels recounts, “I heard all of this ruckus so I walked back into the chapel to see Jeff pinned against a wall. His jacket was torn. His face was bloodied. He was fighting off multiple attackers. He was angry. There was a lot of screaming and yelling. People were laughing and mocking him as he stood his ground and a few men tried to guard him.
“We got Jeff back into the office and I walked back to the chapel. One woman asked me if I was the owner and I replied yes. The next thing I know was she punched me in my head and then a group of women started kicking and punching me. I later found out that one of the men who was in attendance saved me and brought me back to the office. When I cleared my head, I looked for Jeff and someone told me that he was outside with the police.”
Before exiting the building, Jeff had called 911. Both Jeff and Monica recalled that the 911 operator failed to take their call seriously in the midst of the crisis and kept asking an excess of irrelevant questions.
Minutes later, all parties were outside of the building. The fracas had spilled out into the street. Jeff was standing next to a UPD Officer when he was again attacked by several family members. Assistant DA Laurie Lisi stated that only one single officer responded initially and that while he did an excellent job trying to contain the situation, did in fact arrive alone and called for backup only after seeing the situation get out of hand. Lisi mentions that the crowd turned on the officer, but is that what motivated him to call back up and not the descriptive calls of the victims? Also, if there was already a police presence in the area then why did only one officer arrive at first?
Meanwhile, Ms. Revels had left the building to again look for her partner. She explained, “I went to look for Jeff out of our side door and saw the police car but I did not see Jeff. As I walked toward the officer, I was jumped by the same person who hit me initially in the chapel. She hit me in the head and I remember falling and hitting my head on the concrete. Then someone was dragging and punching me and at that point is when I lost consciousness.”
The beating that Monica suffered was savage. It completely pulverized her face. From a private photo, you can see that the extent of the damage was so severe that it rendered Ms. Revels unrecognizable.
Jeff says that when he saw what was happening to his loved one he ran to her aid and delivered a flying side kick to the assailant sending her back into the bushes. A police officer had brought Monica back into the office, virtually saving her life. Both business owners were brought via ambulance to St E’s for medical treatment.
Before leaving, Monica Revels and Jeff Yeomans say that UPD had completely secured the street. An assistant to the Funeral Home had identified the key assailants. There were patrol cars stationed at the property for the remainder of the day as various threats had been leveled to destroy the building. Only one person was arrested that day but not indicted.
Marcus Reed goes on to describe the UPD presence as being calm. According to him, there were 100-150 friends and relatives outside the building, many of which were violent, but that only 3-4 UPD squad cars (eventually backed up by NHPD) responded and that the officers were extremely reserved. Reed’s account is corroborated by Paul Van Valkenburg, another funeral assistant, who identified one of the women who vandalized the chapel and is still willing to testify in court. Reed refused to identify any of the assailants out of fear for his own safety. This is a position that he still holds.
In the Funeral Parlor
According to Rev George Clark, who works at the funeral home, after the initial assaults on Jeff and Monica, everything escalated in the funeral parlor where the body lay. “There was a rumor among family members that the reason the proprietors wouldn’t allow the body to be viewed was that there was no body in the casket.”
One female family member ran to the casket during the melee when no staff was able to protect it. She violently dragged it from its original placement which was intended to prevent its opening. She snatched and wrestled with the coffin and opened it. And immediately hollered, “There’s no body in there.”
This indecent action was done in such a manner as to make Rev Clark concerned that the coffin would tip over and off of the bier. He was greatly concerned that should it fall the condition of the already crumbling body would be even more damaged.
Reverend Clark shouted in response, “There is a body in there.”
What this family member saw was a body entirely wrapped up in plastic, which is the standard procedure and treatment for a non-embalmed body. The smell of the rotting flesh was nauseating. Nonetheless, her words were sufficient to ignite a whole other level of violence and destruction.
“No, he didn’t say that,” the casket violator replied, and went to grab a chair to strike the Rev with. The chairs were linked and she couldn’t strike him with the single chair but then the woman’s husband drew back his fist to strike Rev Clark. Another young lady intervened. She said, “He didn’t do anything. Leave him alone,” and they did.
A young man came to the Rev’s defense and ushered him to safety. Once things calmed down outside and Monica and Jeff were taken to the hospital, Rev. Clark recalls that detectives from Syracuse, along with police from Utica entered the building. “I requested they take a photograph of the body for verification,” he said.
“In all of my 45 years as a minister and 29 as a pastor, I’ve never seen anything like this. It was shameful and heartbreaking. I’ve seen deplorable scenes like this on television but nothing like this ever in person, and in my own hometown. Where I work. I had nightmares for weeks after this incident. It was traumatic and disturbing, especially seeing Monica so badly beaten. It was horrible.”
According to investigators, Clark never responded to messages requesting his information. Recently, however, Reverend Clark said that he would absolutely testify against the assailants.
Medical Treatment @ Saint Elizabeth Hospital
UPD Detectives interviewed both Revels and Yeomans while at St E’s and asked if they would want to press charges. The couple replied that they did indeed wanted the charges pressed. The victims described the detectives’ attitude as being apathetic and disinterested in the case. To reiterate, eight months later, no indictments have been made.
Yeomans states that throughout the entire time he was at Saint Elizabeth Hospital he was never once given medical treatment. He cleaned his on cuts and bruises in a bathroom sink. Ms. Revels was severely injured. At 94 pounds the brutal beatings she suffered had broken her orbital bone, her clavicle, and her septum broken in the attack.
St E’s decided that Monica’s injuries exceeded their ability to treat her effectively and transferred her to Upstate Hospital in Syracuse. Jeff was discharged and told to immediately leave the hospital. He was told he couldn’t ride to Syracuse with Monica in the ambulance.
Without a car at the hospital, Yeomans was simply left to walk out of the building, his injures still untreated by medical staff. He waited for a friend to take him to Upstate to be with his loved one. Once he arrived at Upstate, he was immediately admitted when the staff saw the severity of his injuries.
Ms. Revels’ injuries being far more extreme, incurred far more lasting and permanent damages. From the brutal beating, she is now legally blind in her right eye, has double vision in her left, and suffers from a concussion injury. She sees an eye specialist several times a week. As a result of the severity of her ENT injuries (ear, nose, and throat) she will need surgery to restore her breathing properly. Official letters show that Monica and Jeff released their medical information to their attorney and that the attorney offered said information to the DA. According to the victims, the DA has the medical information.
Monica was unable to identify who hit her from a photo array provided to her by the UPD, though she was struck from behind and lost the use of one eye and has double vision in the other.
Visiting the UPD’s Facebook page where they post such incidents as burglaries, weapons possession arrests, and even homicides, there is no reference to the Revels’ Funeral Home incident. In fact, the only UPD Facebook posts of June the 12th was for an uptick in fireworks in the area.
It should be noted that shortly after the melee occurred, a gruesome photo, obviously taken at the hospital, somehow made its way to social media and was widely disseminated. This photo is horrific in and of itself but the fact that it was leaked by the hospital calls into question further violations of the HIPAA laws designed to protect people in vulnerable medical circumstances among other things.
Given that the Pearson and Thompson families displayed such extreme aggression on the 11th and showed that they were a credible threat, why didn’t the UPD provide security on the 12th when asked and prompted?
Why didn’t the UPD FB page make any mention of the event?
According to ADA Laurie Lisi, two people were arrested, each for hitting Monica and Jeff. The pandemic has prevented the court from being able to get the arrested persons in front of a Grand Jury. However, several more laws (seen below) were violated so why haven’t more arrests been made?
Section 120.06 of the NYS Penal code: Gang assault in the second degree (This applies as the assailants were aided by 2-3 others. The victim’s attorney requested that the DA consider using this.)
Section 4220 of the Public Health Law: A person who, without the authority of law, obstructs or detains any persons engaged in carrying or accompanying the dead body of a human being to a place of burial, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Section 120.06 of the NYS Penal code: Disruption or disturbance of a religious service, funeral, burial, or memorial service.
T. Revels Gibson Funeral Home barely remains in business after the horrific and brutal attack, and while their business is indeed a priority, Monica and Jeff still seek resolution to what happened on that summer day.