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Jury acquits 2 in alleged gay bashing in Rice Lake

“I heard his head hit the pavement.” Krista Kathrine said she was getting out of her car at about 5:30 a.m. March 17, 2013, when Rien L. Hendricks hit her brother in the head with a piece of wood and he tumbled to the parking lot pavement outside a Rice Lake restaurant.

Kathrine, who testified on Feb. 11 during the trial of Hendricks and wife Shannon R. Hendricks, said she heard “a lot of awful noises.”

And she saw Rien Hendricks running toward a vehicle where Shannon Hendricks waited in the driver’s seat.

“I ran after him,” Kathrine said. “I grabbed his sweatshirt and I looked him in the eye and asked, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”

Hendricks, she said, got into his vehicle and his wife drove away.

Kathrine and Phares, who was bleeding from the head, made their way to the nearby Perkins Family Restaurant, where emergency officials were called on 911.

Phares later recalled that Hendricks shouted, “Fucking faggot, I’m going to kill you” before striking him with the 2 x 4.

But 11 months after the attack, on Feb. 12, a jury in Barron County found Rien and Shannon Hendricks not guilty of substantial battery with the intention of inflicting bodily harm. If convicted on the felony charges, they would have faced a $10,000 fine and a prison sentence of three and a half years.

Phares, after learning of the trial outcome, said, “I feel like I didn’t get a fair trial.” He was critical of the way the legal proceedings played out and also of the police department investigation.

“They tried to make it look like it was my fault,” he said of the way the trial went and indicating he wants to pursue a civil rights complaint with the Justice Department.

Phares testified for about two hours on Feb. 11. “I got a little sarcastic on the stand. But I am the victim. And I called them out. This was a hate crime, and I said that,” he said.

Before the early morning encounter in the parking lot last spring, Phares and Kathrine had been at a party at the Hendricks home, where the brother and sister said they were treated rudely.

There was agreement by both sides at the trial that an incident occurred in the parking lot by Perkins — but not on the details. The prosecution alleged that Rien Hendricks hit Phares hard enough with the wood to knock the man to the ground. The defense suggested that Hendricks poked at Phares, who threw himself to the ground.

Phares did end up in the hospital, with head and facial abrasions and multiple fractures and a doctor testified on the gay man’s behalf at the trial.

Phares said he was still recovering from is injuries when he was informed from the management at the Applebee’s in Rice Lake that he shouldn’t return to his job due to negative publicity surrounding the incident.

Phares eventually did go back to work at the restaurant after Greg Flynn, CEO of Apple American Group franchise, intervened on his behalf.

Still, his experience at Applebee’s — where Shannon Hendricks remained on the job for months after the incident and where he faced anti-gay harassment — left Phares troubled. He resigned in late July 2013 and has since pursued a discrimination complaint against Applebee’s with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

He also left Wisconsin for Portland, Ore., where he’s looking for work.

“I wanted to get away — from Rice Lake and from Applebee’s,” he said.

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