Attorney seeks answers for theater director from Keller who was attacked

Two males between 18 and 20 years old are suspected of assaulting a man with a wooden rod at a Target in Dallas on Saturday night.
Two males between 18 and 20 years old are suspected of assaulting a man with a wooden rod at a Target in Dallas on Saturday night. Dallas Police Department

The attorney for 33-year-old Derek Whitener, a theater director from Keller who was violently beaten in a Target parking lot Saturday, wants to know how the attack could have happened.

“This should not have happened,” said Chris Hamilton, Whitener’s attorney, on Thursday.

Whitener had just performed in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch, where he serves as actor and director, when he stopped by Target on Haskell Avenue in Dallas, police said.

As he entered the store, two men began walking toward him, Dallas police said. Surveillance video shows the two walking away as he gets to the front door. While he was inside, Whitener reported the two as suspicious.

Target security as well as an off-duty Dallas officer asked the men to leave the property, police said.

Around 11 p.m., Whitener left Target and as he was walking toward his car, one of the men made a threatening statement and then beat him with a 3-foot wooden rod, police said.

The men, both in gorilla masks, fled on foot.

Whitener was still in intensive care Thursday at Baylor University Medical Center, Hamilton said.

An update on a GoFundMe page for Whitener said Wednesday that he still has swelling on his brain, making him unable to communicate, but that once the swelling goes down he will begin to make more progress.

“What we know is just really disturbing,” Hamilton said. “How he was able to be led into an extremely dangerous situation when he asked the store for help, I don’t understand.”

Hamilton said he is seeking answers from Target.

“I have serious concerns that Target did not only not help him but actually made it worse,” Hamilton said.

“At Target, our guests are at the center of everything we do and we take their safety and the safety of our team members very seriously,” Target said in a statement. “We will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as they work to apprehend the individuals responsible for the attack.”

Dallas police released photos of the two men from surveillance video and are asking anyone with information to come forward.

They are described as black males 5 feet, 9 inches tall, weighing about 150 pounds, between the ages of 18 and 20.

The GoFundMe page had raised more than $83,000 by Thursday morning.

Whitener has worked in costume design, acting and directing at many theaters across North Texas including Fort Worth, Arlington, Bedford, Addison and Dallas.

Whitener has been designing costumes for the production Stupid F------ Bird at Stage West Theatre in Fort Worth.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Azia Branson: 817-390-7547, @aziabranson