As of Monday afternoon, the case is being investigated by FBI agents as a “civil rights violation,” said Special Agent Michael Martinez, a spokesman for the FBI in El Paso.
The attack took place either late Friday night or early Saturday morning, Martinez said. On Saturday, El Paso police said the man had been waiting for a ride outside the Old Plantation Night Club, 301 S. Ochoa, when a verbal confrontation began between the victim and six men.
Police said that the verbal confrontation became physical and that the six men allegedly began punching and kicking the victim. The group allegedly also used a bat to strike the victim.
The victim’s sister told a local TV station Monday that she believes the attack was a hate crime because the suspects were yelling gay slurs, even though she said her brother is not gay. However, El Paso police said they didn’t have enough information to classify the incident as a hate crime — in part because they’d been unable to interview the victim because he was still unconscious.
The federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which passed Congress in 2009, grants the FBI authority to intervene in local hate crimes cases, including those motivated by actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Today’s El Paso Times story follows criticism from LGBT advocates, who say the local media has been largely ignoring the case.