3 arrested in assault on gay man in Reno

Victim Burke Burnett says he is relieved the men are behind bars and that he believes the attack was an anti-gay hate crime

Burke-Burnett

BRUISED AND BLOODIED | Burke Burnett said he was sucker-punched in the left eye at the beginning of the attack.

JOHN WRIGHT |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

RENO, Lamar County — The victim of a brutal assault last weekend in East Texas said he’s relieved three suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack, which he believes was an anti-gay hate crime.

But it remained unclear this week whether the case is being investigated as an anti-gay hate crime by police and whether it will be prosecuted as one by the Lamar County District Attorney’s Office.

Burke Burnett, 26, said he was jumped by several men at a Halloween party early Sunday in Reno — a tiny town just east of Paris and about 100 miles northeast of Dallas. Burnett’s attackers yelled anti-gay slurs as they stabbed him repeatedly with a broken beer bottle and threw him onto a fire.

He needed more than 30 stitches and suffered second-degree burns.

After graphic photos of Burnett’s injuries were posted online by Dallas Voice and drew national attention to the case, Reno police arrested three suspects Tuesday and Wednesday and charged them with aggravated assault.

“I’m grateful that they’re in custody,” Burnett said Thursday. “I’m in a lot of pain, but I am feeling better. I don’t want to see this ever happen to anybody else again.”

Burnett, who lives in Paris and came out as gay when he was 15, said he’s convinced the attack was fueled by his sexual orientation.

“The things they were screaming while they were doing it leave no question in my mind as to what their motives were,” Burnett said. “If that constitutes a hate crime … I don’t know all the laws behind that. It’s not my job to judge these guys or to say what justice is. I just hope that justice is served because what they did was wrong. It would have been wrong no matter who they did it to.”

Burke-Burnett-2

SERIOUS BODILY INJURY | Burnett suffered second-degree burns on his arms when he was thrown onto a lit burn barrel.

Reno police said they’ve arrested 31-year-old James “Tray” Mitchell Laster III, 33-year-old Daniel Martin, and 25-year-old Micky Joe Smith. All three are charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury — second-degree felonies punishable by up 20 years in prison. Each is being held on $250,000 bond.

Police have been tightlipped about their investigation and declined to release written arrest reports this week. A representative from the Reno Police Department indicated it will be up to the Lamar County District Attorney’s Office to decide whether the attack was an anti-gay hate crime.

Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young, in turn, said it will be up to a grand jury to make that determination. Under Texas law, a hate crime is not a separate charge but rather an enhancement that could result in the existing charges being bumped up from second-degree felonies to first-degree felonies — punishable by up to 99 years in prison.

“We’re in the process of receiving all the information as a result of the investigation,” Young told Dallas Voice. “We will present all that information to the grand jury, including all the information as to whether it’s a hate crime or not. The grand jury will make a determination whether it [a hate crime] is or isn’t part of the charge. If their actions of committing the aggravated assault are based on race or sexual orientation or whatever it may be, the grand jury can choose to enhance the offense up a level.”

Young declined to further discuss the cases.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas, said the quick arrests in the case are a positive sign that Burnett’s attack isn’t being swept under the rug. But Smith said there are always concerns about whether police and prosecutors understand how the state’s hate crime law is supposed to work.

“While it’s true that that’s a prosecutor’s decision, it’s also important that the law enforcement investigators document everything that a prosecutor would need to know in order to elect to prosecute it as such,” Smith said. “The police can investigate it as such, and then the district attorney can prosecute it as such. A grand jury is going to receive proposed indictments from the District Attorney’s Office. The prosecutor would ask a grand jury for an indictment under those terms.”

Equality Texas has long advocated for a legislative study on enforcement of the state’s hate crimes act, rarely used by prosecutors in the 10 years since it passed.

“The reporting from jurisdictions in Texas is not comparable to departments of similar sizes in other states, and that’s a function of the state not adequately training and enforcing and using the hate crimes act,” Smith said. “They don’t aggressively report because they think it would reflect badly on their community, where in actuality the converse is true. In communities that aggressively report, it actually makes those communities safer.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Two men arrested in 2010 shooting

Tull recognized attackers when TV news broadcast their photos following their arrests for a June murder in Oak Cliff

Doug Tull
Doug Tull

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

As Doug Tull recovers from what he hopes will be the final surgery he will have to endure after being shot in a robbery on an Oak Lawn street on Aug. 30, 2010, he said he is happy to know that the men who attacked him have finally been apprehended.

Last month, LaMarcus Mathis, 19, Don Williams, 17, and Robert Robertson, 24, were arrested for the murder of South Dallas convenience store owner Jin Ha.

Tull said he recognized Mathis as the man who shot him when he saw the suspect’s photo on television.

“I was watching the news,” he said of how he learned the three had been arrested. “It sent chills down my spine.”

Tull said that Williams is the person who participated in beating him during the attack last year, but he is not sure if Robertson was the getaway driver.

He said there was no doubt in his mind that Mathis and Robertson are the same two men who attacked him a year ago, and that he has worried ever since that they would continue attacking until someone was killed.

“I knew they’d do it again,” Tull said.

Tull also said that he knew the night he was shot that the suspects had committed such crimes before.

“They acted too experienced,” he said. “They knew exactly what they were doing.”

On Aug. 30, Tull was walking from his apartment on Throckmorton Street to Pekers, a bar on Oak Lawn Avenue. Two men stopped him on Brown Street demanding money. They took his wallet and beat him.
When Tull sprayed his attackers with mace, Mathis shot him then made his escape by running to a car driven by a third man, who had pulled into a nearby bank drive-through lane

Tull was able to make it to Pekers about a block away. Someone in a nearby apartment who saw the incident happen had already called police. Ron Nelson and Frank Holland, owners of Pekers, were at the bar, and as soon as they realized Tull was bleeding, Nelson called 9-1-1.

Tull was rushed by ambulance to Parkland Hospital where he had emergency surgery. He remained in the hospital almost six weeks and has since had two subsequent operations.

The bullet splintered his tailbone and Tull developed osteomyelitis, a bacterial bone infection from which he spent eight months at home recovering.

During that time, Tull said he heard little from Dallas police, who had no leads in the shooting. Police used a warrant to get the surveillance tapes from the nearby bank, but the tape did not clearly identify the car and the license plate on the car was unreadable.

LaMarcus Mathis, left, and Don Williams
LaMarcus Mathis, left, and Don Williams

A check from Tull’s wallet was found in the parking garage at The Crescent and returned to him by mail with a note. Crescent property managers made surveillance tapes from their property available to police when they learned that the check had been stolen in an armed robbery. But those tapes offered no evidence.

Jin Ha was murdered July 3 in her convenience store, located at the intersection of Illinois and Overton avenues in South Dallas. Robertson, who was driving the car seen in surveillance video, was arrested in Dallas three days later and charged with capital murder.

Robertson then tipped off police that Williams and Mathis had fled to Connecticut.

The two fugitives were arrested July 22 in Bridgeport, Conn., and both were extradited to Texas.

Williams and Mathis are being held in the Dallas County jail, with bail set at $1 million each, and both have been charged with capital murder.

Robertson told police that the two teenagers had been looking for someone to drive them around. A different car was involved in Tull’s shooting.

After Mathis and Williams were captured, Tull saw their pictures on TV news.

“My heart was racing,” he said. “I was so excited.”

Tull tried to contact the detective who investigated his case but didn’t receive a return phone call because that officer was out for knee surgery. Tull then contacted Dallas Voice who put the Dallas Police Department’s LGBT Liaison Officer Laura Martin in touch with him.

Martin contacted the detectives working on the Jin Ha case.

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, detectives visited Tull at home to have him identify Mathis and Williams as his attackers through pictures. He will be asked to pick them out of a police line up at a later time.

Police will do ballistics tests to link the bullet to Mathis’ gun.

Whether or not the same gun was used, Tull has no doubt about the identity of his attackers.

Aggravated assault will probably be added to the murder charges already pending against the two suspects, and Tull said he looked forward to facing them and testifying against them in court.

Tull will remain home to recover from his final surgery for two months. After taking eight months off from his job at Texas Instruments, he returned to work for just eight weeks before his final operation on July 28.

“My misery is ending,” Tull said, “But theirs is just beginning.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Anti-gay attack reported on 4th Street in Austin

Bobby Beltran is shown after the attack.

A 26-year-old gay man says he and a friend were the victims of a hate crime outside the bars on 4th Street in downtown Austin early Sunday morning.

Bobby Beltran said he and his friend had just left Rain, a gay bar, at about 1:30 a.m. When they hugged each other goodbye on the sidewalk, some men in a passing vehicle yelled, “Fucking faggots, stop that queer shit!”

After Beltran yelled at the men to “get out of here,” all five of them jumped out of the vehicle and attacked him and his friend. Beltran said he fought back but suffered cuts and bruises and a black eye. His friend may have suffered a broken jaw. The attackers quickly jumped back in the vehicle, which was parked in the middle of the street, and drove off.

“I’ve never in my life been in any kind of violent situation, especially a hate crime, so it’s been pretty traumatic,” Beltran said. “Austin is supposed to be a gay haven, especially on 4th Street. What scares me even more is that nobody even helped.”

Beltran, an activist who helped organize this year’s QueerBomb in Austin, said it was at least the third anti-gay hate crime in the city this year. In a high-profile case in February, two gay softball players were attacked near Austin City Hall.

“I’m just trying to get the word out there that this is going on in Austin and it’s not safe right now,” Beltran said. “I come from Brownsville, Texas. Even down there I was out since I was 13, and I never got picked on in high school. To find out that it’s here in Austin on 4th Street, and knowing that fellow gay men were not doing anything about it, is just shocking.”

Beltran said the police responded and took a report but didn’t seem too concerned about the crime and haven’t contacted him since then.

He said the attack lasted for about three minutes and was witnessed by at least 20 people, but none of them tried to help. Beltran said he yelled out the license plate of the vehicle as he ran after the attackers, but no one wrote it down and he doesn’t remember it.

“It was the most unsafe I’ve ever felt in my entire life, knowing that not even my community stood up,” Beltran said. “I’m so afraid to go back down there.”

Beltran described the five attackers as three black males, one Hispanic male and one white male. He said the vehicle was an older-model gold Chevrolet that was low to the ground and had fancy rims.

Witnesses are asked to call the Austin Police Department at 512-974-5000.

—  John Wright

String of anti-gay hate crimes rocks NYC

In latest incident, 7 gang members are accused of torturing 3 victims after discovering one of their recruits was gay

COLLEEN LONG | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Members of a street gang discovered one of their recruits was gay, so they attacked the teen, brutally beating and torturing him and two other people in gruesome assaults, police said Friday, Oct. 8.

Seven of the suspects were arrested and being held pending arraignment on charges of robbery, sodomy, menacing and assault as hate crimes. Two others were being sought.

The attack came amid heightened attention to anti-gay bullying following a string of suicides attributed to it last month around the country.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the first of the four assaults in the most recent case occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 3.

The first victim, a 17-year-old potential recruit for the “Latin King Goonies” street gang, was grabbed by gang members and taken to an empty Bronx apartment they used for parties and sex, police said. The teen was stripped, beaten and sodomized with a wooden plunger handle, police said.

The attackers, apparently angry he was gay, yelled anti-gay insults and questioned him about his contact with a 30-year-old man, police said.

The teen was eventually released and told not to tell anyone. He walked to a hospital where he was treated, but he reported his injuries as due to a robbery.

Using information gleaned from their interrogation of the recruit, the attackers then descended on another 17-year-old also thought to have had a relationship with the 30-year-old, police said. Both were lured to the same apartment.

The second teen was assaulted at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday, police said. The 30-year-old arrived about an hour later with malt liquor, thinking he was going to a party. He was stripped to his underwear and tied to a chair opposite the other teen, who was forced by the angry mob to burn the man with cigarettes, police said. They beat the 30-year-old, forced him to drink copious amounts of the malt liquor he brought, and sodomized him with a small baseball bat, police said.

“These suspects employed terrible wolf-pack odds of nine-against-one, odds which revealed them as predators whose crimes were as cowardly as they were despicable,” Kelly said.

During the attack, some of the assailants went to the 30-year-old’s home, where they attacked his older brother and robbed him of $1,000, a 52-inch TV and two debit cards, police said.

The victims were eventually freed, hospitalized and treated.

The assailants scrubbed the scene top-to-bottom with bleach, even repainting the walls to make it look new, police said.

“They could clean, but they couldn’t hide,” Kelly said.

Investigators said they still found alcohol cans and hair at the scene. And an onlooker slipped a phone number to detectives, leading them to the primary suspect. The victims, initially reluctant, also started to divulge more details about the assaults, Kelly said. The Hate Crimes Task Force took over the investigation, along with Bronx robbery and gang division and special victims squad and arrested the seven men.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city’s highest-ranking openly gay official, called the attacks “vile” and “horrifying.”

“These attacks are appalling and are even more despicable because the victims were clearly targeted in acts of hate simply because they are gay,” Quinn said. “The cowardly few who committed these crimes do not represent New Yorkers and our community will not be cowed by such violence.”

A weekend rally on anti-gay bias was planned following other crimes against gays.

On Sunday, Oct. 3, a patron at the Stonewall Inn, a symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was beaten in an anti-gay bias attack, according to prosecutors. Two suspects in the case were charged. Their attorneys say they’re not guilty.

That attack followed the Sept. 22 death of a New Jersey college student, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was secretly streamed online. The student’s roommate and another freshman have been charged with invasion of privacy. Authorities are considering bias-crime charges.

The attacks remain all too common, and there is still a stigma to being a lesbian, gay bisexual or trangendered person, said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others. That stigma leads to such attacks, and to young people feeling their only alternative is suicide.

“We have to stop thinking that it’s OK to bully LGBT people, or make fun of LGBT people,” she said.

“What we see now is the link between casual sort of comments and the real and horrific violence that results because those comments contribute to an entire culture of violence.”

—  John Wright

Judge allows gay Ky. teen to testify against alleged attackers

MCKEE, Ky. — A Jackson County judge will let a teenager who says she is gay testify against friends charged with attacking her.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported District Judge Henria Bailey-Lewis ruled Monday, Aug. 2 that Cheyenne Williams will be allowed to testify against two other female teens. Defense had asked that Williams’ testimony be barred, saying her story to police was inconsistent.

Williams had Corinne Schwab and Ashley Sams charged with kidnapping and attempted murder. The court reduced the charges to fourth-degree assault and menacing.

Schwab and Sams face trial Aug. 19 in the incident, which took place April 16.

A third girl, who is a juvenile, is also charged.

—  John Wright

Letters • 07.30.10

Perception of weakness

In the article “Letter criticizes FBI’s handling of Terlingua attack,” (Dallas Voice, July 23), the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School makes a very profound statement.

He said, regarding the victim of the attack, “I think he was targeted because he was perceived as weak and vulnerable.” He went on to elaborate that what mattered was the “perception” that the victim was “different.”

This is strikingly familiar to the story, several months ago now, of two men attacked in the Oak Lawn area by those wielding baseball bats (“Community outraged over assault,” Dallas Voice, May 21).

It was the “perception” of their vulnerability that more than likely made them the target of those who attacked them. But something made them stand out in the minds of their attackers.

It is the perception of being vulnerable that is really the issue here. It does not matter so much if someone is perceived to be “gay” so much as they are perceived to be “prey.” What was it that made them stand out in the predator’s/predators’ mind(s)?

The more we ask these questions of ourselves, the more we initiate those skill sets that allow us to think like a predator instead of prey.

A person’s gender, age, race, religion or sexual orientation are really superfluous to the issue at hand. What matters is the “perception” of vulnerability — period.

And there isn’t always safety in numbers. As the two men attacked recently will attest, four attackers still outnumber two victims, let alone if they have weapons.

I just spoke to a man in Uptown last week, late 20s and very physically fit, who was attacked by two men while on business in Atlanta. His level of fitness afforded him nothing when faced with two assailants when he was admittedly a bit “tipsy” leaving a nightclub, separated from his two friends and distracted by the new female friend he had just met inside. His two assailants knew he was vulnerable for several reasons.

Until we all ask those internal questions that only the individual can ask and then seek out the advice and training to help us fill in those gaps of vulnerability, the stories involving predator and prey will continue to be a recurring theme in our print and news media.

Jeff McKissack, speaker/instructor
DefenseByDesign.com

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas