Fairness Fort Worth criticizes FWPD’s initial handling of attack; asks for FBI to investigate as well. FWPD denies charges of delay in reclassifying attack
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
FORT WORTH — Fort Worth police officials this week confirmed that a May 24 attack on two gay men is being investigated as a possible hate crime, but denied charges that classification of the attack as a hate crime was improperly delayed.
The LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth this week released a statement on Wednesday, June 7, saying that the attack should have been classified as a hate crime in the initial report by responding officers and calling for “additional training of officers about hate crimes.”
In addition, Fairness Fort Worth President Thomas Anable said that on Monday, June 6, he contacted the local office of the FBI to request an investigation of the incident under the federal hate crimes law. Anable said that within hours, the agency had assigned an agent who had contacted him and the Fort Worth PD.
“The FBI will conduct a separate investigation of the incident and is willing to assist the Fort Worth Police Department in its investigation,” according to the Fairness Fort Worth statement.
FBI Special Agent Mark White, media spokesman for the agency’s Dallas office, said Thursday, June 9, he could neither confirm nor deny that the FBI is conducting an investigation, as per office policy.
According to police reports, Jason Sanches, his partner Ray Easley and his sister Joni Mariscal were attacked by a group of six men and one woman outside a convenience store on South Hulen, just south of I-20, in the early morning hours of May 24. The trio had walked over from their nearby apartment, and left the store after buying a pack of gum.
Sanches said that the suspects accused them of “talking shit to my girl” inside the store, and attacked him with a stun gun before shoving and punching him until he fell to the ground.
Easley was also attacked with the stun gun three or four times.
Sanches, who refused ambulance service and later drove himself to the hospital, was hit in the face and had several teeth knocked out. He said Thursday that he is recovering, but still has pain around his eye socket, which was fractured in the attack.
Sanches said he believes that the “girl” to whom the attackers referred was a young Asian woman who is a member of the family that owns the store. He said he did not see the woman in the store before the attack, but that when Easley drove back to the store later to look for the suspects, the woman pulled a gun on him and told him to leave.
Sanches also told Dallas Voice shortly after the attack that he was upset at the way officers and paramedics with MedStar ambulance company that responded to the initial call treated him and his partner and sister. He said the officers and the paramedics did not seem to take the attack seriously and that the officers ignored his statements that the attack was a hate crime.
Sanches said he did tell responding officers that the attackers used anti-gay language, but the initial report, supplied by Fort Worth PD,
includes no mention of the slurs being used.
Sanches said Thursday he has not filed a complaint against the officers, but is considering doing so. He also said he has spoken with a detective to whom the case was assigned, but had not heard anything from officials “since last Wednesday.”
When Sanches first contacted Dallas Voice, Voice staffers suggested he contact Fort Worth police’s LGBT Liaison Officer Sara Straten. According to a spokesman in the department’s media relations office, Straten then filed a supplemental report that included information on the anti-gay language used by the suspects and indicating the attack could be a hate crime.
According to the Fairness Fort Worth statement, Police Chief Jeff Halstead contacted a FFW representative on Monday to notify them the case had been assigned to the major case unit and would be investigated as a hate crime. The statement also said Halstead had “expressed disappointment in the department’s initial steps which failed to properly investigate the incidence as a hate crime.”
But in a statement released late Wednesday, Lt. Paul Henderson, Halstead’s chief of staff, defended the way the department had handled the case.
Henderson’s statement noted that initial reports did not include reference to the anti-gay language suspects used in the attack. But, he added, patrol officers are trained to respond to emergency situations and calls for service, and their “primary mission is to respond and conduct a basic investigation” and file an initial report.
While some patrol officers do conduct “in-depth investigations,” Henderson said, most are “not necessarily trained investigators” and they are not trained to investigate hate crimes.
Henderson said those initial reports are then funneled to detectives in the proper divisions who conduct thorough investigations. Evidence from those investigations is then used to “make determinations if a crime actually occurred, what charge would be filed and whether there are any special circumstances that need to be considered for the district attorney’s office,” he said.
In terms of the Sanches case, Henderson said, “we respectfully disagree that there was a delay in making a determination that this was a potential hate crime. Those types of determinations are made by assigned detectives who are trained investigators.”
Henderson said that based on the initial report by the responding officer, the attack was not considered a potential hate crime and was assigned to a detective in the division where the attack occurred.
However, after Sanches provided a written statement, on May 28, regarding the anti-gay slurs used during the assault, the case was sent to the Major Case Section for further review, and then assigned to a Major Case detective for investigation as a possible hate crime.
“It is important to note that had the responding officer listed the specific details in the original summary narrative regarding anti-gay slurs, the same process of investigation would have taken place, leading us to the same conclusion that this is a potentially hate-motivated crime,” Henderson said.
He also pointed out that “hate crimes are presented as such during the trial for the underlying offense, in this case, aggravated assault. Once a crime is determined to be potentially motivated by hate, it is the responsibility of the prosecuting attorney to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected the victim or victims based on bias or prejudice.”
LGBT advocates have often criticized the way Texas’ hate crimes law is implemented by prosecutors.
The law allows for enhanced penalties in convictions where crimes were motivated by bias, but prosecutors often choose not to ask for a hate crime conviction and penalty enhancement because of the increased burden of proving such bias existed.