Tag Archives: assault

Humane Society condemns fatal attack on flamingo at Florida park

The Humane Society of the United States strongly condemns the attack on a flamingo named Pinky at Busch Gardens in Tampa and will urge authorities to pursue the case with vigor.

An Orlando man was arrested for picking up and throwing Pinky to the ground, and the flamingo was so badly injured that she had to be euthanized.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, said in a statement, “People who abuse animals often don’t stop there, and pose a violent risk to the rest of society. That’s why we’ve worked to fortify the legal framework across the country to punish malicious animal cruelty as a serious offense.”

SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, which owns Busch Gardens, also issued a statement. “SeaWorld will strongly urge prosecution in this case, and for any person who engages in this sort of cruel behavior towards animals,” SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said. “Pinky was a beloved member of the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay family and she will be sorely missed. Our Ambassador team members are appalled by this incident, and I am sure they share my view that our state must have a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of cruelty.”

Joseph Anthony Corrao, 45, on Aug. 2 was visiting Busch Gardens with his mother and his three teenagers when he reached into a pen and picked up a flamingo, according to a police report.

Police said Corrao put the bird down and then picked up another flamingo.

After his mother told him to leave the birds alone, he picked up Pinky and threw the bird to the ground hard enough to nearly severe a foot.

Corrao was detained by park security until Tampa police arrived to make an arrest.

Park officials said Pinky was euthanized because of the traumatic injuries.

“A very sad and hard day for us here,” park spokeswoman Karen Varga-Sinka said, according to the AP.

Corrao made a first appearance in court on Aug. 3.

His criminal record includes a conviction of aggravated assault on a person 65 years or older, felony DUI and fleeing from a law enforcement, the AP reported. Corrao served three years in prison for the assault.

Pinky was a 19-year-old Chilean flamingo that hatched at the park.

Former St. Louis police officer sentenced for civil rights violations

A former St. Louis Metropolitan Police officer was sentenced to 52 months in prison for depriving a handcuffed arrestee of his civil rights by assaulting him and forcing a gun into his mouth.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson of the Western District of Missouri, announced the sentence.

Thomas Carroll, 52, of St. Louis, admitted during his plea hearing that he punched the victim, identified in court papers as M.W., in the torso while the victim was handcuffed.

Based on evidence presented at the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey of the Eastern District of Missouri found that Carroll forced his gun into M.W.’s mouth and that M.W. sustained painful and obvious injury.

“When law enforcement officers abuse their authority, they not only violate the law but they also threaten the ability of responsible officers to earn the public trust and do their jobs effectively,” Gupta said in a statement to the press.

Dickinson said, “It’s a sad day when a uniformed police officer is sent to prison for violating the constitutional rights of a citizen. No one is above the law, and no one has the right to take the law into their own hands. Now this disgraced officer will face the consequences of his violent crime.”

According to evidence presented at the plea and sentencing hearings, on July 22, 2014, M.W. was arrested at Ballpark Village near Busch Stadium in St. Louis because he was allegedly in unlawful possession of a credit card that belonged to Carroll’s daughter.

Carroll, who was on duty that night, responded to Ballpark Village and confronted M.W., who already was under arrest, handcuffed and seated in the backseat of another officer’s patrol car.

Carroll yelled at M.W., telling him that he made a “huge mistake” and that he “broke into the wrong girl’s car.”

Two other officers then drove M.W. to the central patrol police station and Carroll followed behind in his own patrol car.

Carroll admitted that despite orders from a superior officer to stay away from M.W., he entered the interview room where M.W. was handcuffed and being held.

Carroll began yelling at M.W., questioning him about who broke into his daughter’s car and threatening him.

Carroll then picked M.W. up and threw him into a wall.

While M.W. was on the ground and still handcuffed, Carroll punched M.W. in the torso.  Carroll then forced his department-issued service weapon into M.W.’s mouth and threatened to shoot him.  The gun chipped M.W.’s teeth and bloodied his lip.

M.W. also suffered significant pain and bruising to his torso and ribs.

In a separate but related case, Bliss Worrell, 28, of Clayton, Missouri, a former prosecutor for the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, was sentenced today to 18 months’ probation for concealing her knowledge of Carroll’s assault.

Worrell pleaded guilty on Oct. 26, 2015, to misprision of a felony.

Worrell testified at Carroll’s sentencing hearing that while she was working as a prosecutor, Carroll, with whom she had become close friends, bragged about assaulting M.W. and forcing his gun into M.W.’s mouth.

Worrell admitted that she filed charges against M.W. without disclosing knowledge of the assault to her colleagues, supervisors or the judge assigned to setting a bond.

She also admitted during her guilty plea that she allowed the charges to stand despite later learning that the facts supporting the attempted escape charge were fabricated to cover for injuries that M.W. sustained during the assault.

These cases were investigated by the FBI’s St. Louis Division, in cooperation with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

These cases were prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney David M. Ketchmark of the Western District of Missouri, who has been appointed as special attorney to the U.S. Attorney General, and special litigation counsel Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division.

YGB: Black teenage girl beaten by our very own MPD

On June 21, 18-year-old black teen Genele Laird was working at Lids Hats at East Towne Mall in Madison when her phone was stolen.

She was angry and a colleague called police. When they arrived, officers apparently did not like her demeanor and rather than helping her recover her stolen property, they began approaching her to take her into custody.

According to video footage, almost immediately upon being approached two MPD officers began brutalizing the thin-framed Laird.

The attack included repeatedly kneeing her in the side, punching her in the side and face, shoving her to the ground, tasing her and putting a bag over her head while continuing to tase her.

The Young Gifted and Black Coalition with Freedom Inc call for Laird’s immediate release and that police drop the four felony charges against her.

Reportedly police have charged Laird with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct with a weapon because she had a knife in her purse, harming an officer and spitting.

This officer was very comfortable abusing this troubled teen on camera in broad daylight. A city that lets this happen is a city that needs change at root levels.

YGB and FI demand the following:
• Laird’s immediate release.
• That all charges against her are dropped.
• That the offending officers are arrested.
• Community control of the Madison Police Department.
We have got to to better as a community. We will do better. Stay tuned about how you can help.
People Power is all we got. All Power To The People! #freegenele #handsoffblackwomen #communitycontrolofpolice.

Watch the video here: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3a%2f%2fwww.facebook.com%2f100008713631510%2fvideos%2f1586578181642621%2f&show_text=0&width=400

On the Web

A news report on the incident can be found here.

Feds: Victims felt traumatized after UNM sex assault probes

A U.S. Justice Department review of nearly 173 allegations of sexual harassment — including sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence — at the University of New Mexico included reports from women who described feeling traumatized as school officials investigated their complaints.

Findings released earlier this month from a 16-month Justice Department probe into the University of New Mexico’s handling of sexual harassment complaints found the school had violated federal laws as it dismissed allegations without properly weighing evidence, showed gender bias or insensitivity in its reviews, and took as long as eight months to investigate complaints.

Federal guidelines recommend that a school’s sexual harassment investigations are completed in 60 days.

University of New Mexico President Robert Frank said the investigation painted an inaccurate picture of the campus because it represented only a snapshot in time.

But Frank said he would cooperate with the government on its recommendations — which come after the school has already begun rolling out policy changes and awareness campaigns to make the campus safer.

“Department of Justice or no Department of Justice this has been our standard all along,” he said.

WHAT PROMPTED THE INVESTIGATION

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division opened its investigation after receiving complaints from victims over the university’s handling of their reports.

Much of the investigation, launched in December 2014, reviewed the school’s compliance with a law known as Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. While better known for guaranteeing girls equal access to sports, Title IX also regulates institutions’ handling of sexual violence and is increasingly being used by victims who say their schools failed to protect them.

WHAT WERE INVESTIGATORS’ KEY FINDINGS?

Students, faculty and staff lack a basic understanding of their options for reporting assaults or where to turn for help, and the school’s broken system for handling complaints has created a confusing grievance process, the Justice Department said.

During the course of the investigation, school administrators already began improving how allegations are investigated, but there is still need for improvement, federal officials said. Frank, the university’s president, said the school’s recent efforts weren’t adequately represented in the report.

In one case, a student described how an investigator with the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity repeatedly called the person accused in the assault her “ex-lover,” despite reporting the two had no prior relationship, federal authorities said. Another student’s case was determined to have lacked “tangible” evidence that her attacker tried to strangle her, despite medical records showing she had redness and bruising on her neck, according to the federal investigation.

WHAT’S NEXT?

A meeting that has yet to be scheduled is the next step to reach an agreement on implementing federal recommendations.

The Justice Department recommends the university provide training to students and staff with information on how to report attacks. It also urged the school to revise its policies so it can promptly respond to sexual harassment, which creates a hostile campus environment.

But there’s little precedent for how the Justice Department might track steps for reform. The University of New Mexico is only the second school to undergo a Justice Department probe under Title IX into its handling of sexual harassment claims. The University of Montana was the first.

In Montana, school officials reached an agreement with the Justice Department requiring them to hire a higher-education consultant with expertise in harassment prevention to develop policies and training. The university also had to set a timeline for clarifying how students and staff report assault and harassment.

Wisconsin Republicans declare open season against environment

UPDATED: Republicans took target practice in early January after declaring open season on Wisconsin’s environmental resources.

The new year began with a bang, bang in the Capitol, where in just two days Republicans presided over a series of hearings on bills aimed at rolling back protections for air, land and water and at the same time curtailing the authority of local governments to protect natural resources.

“From developing on lake beds to filling in wetlands to taking away local governments’ authority to protect the health of their communities, the Legislature is starting 2016 off with a pretty loud message to Wisconsinites,” said Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. The message, Schumann said, is lawmakers “are putting the wishes of big developers, factory farms, frac sand mining companies and other polluting interests above the needs of their constituents.”

WLCV and the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, both nonprofit environmental advocacy groups, identified two measures of special concern — AB 600/SB 459, aka the “polluter grab bag,” and AB 582/SB 464, aka the “developer grab bag.”

Supporters of the measures say they protect and advance “property rights.” 

Opponents say they further erode protections for Wisconsin’s natural resources.

‘Polluter grab bag’

AB 600/SB 459 would allow developers to build on lake beds, provide incentives for developing a million acres of wetlands that lack federal protections and allow lakefront property owners to dredge up to three dump-truck loads of lakebed sediment every year.

The Assembly Committee on Environment and Forestry held a hearing Jan. 5 on the bill, which is backed by Americans for Prosperity, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Waste Management, Wisconsin Builders Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and Wisconsin Realtors Association.

Registered opponents include WLCV, Clean Lakes Alliance, Clean Wisconsin, League of Women Voters, River Alliance, Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Wisconsin Association of Lakes, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association and Wisconsin Wetlands Association.

“AB 600 undermines the public trust doctrine, allowing property owners on Wisconsin lakes, including the Great Lakes, to dredge material without any oversight and in most cases without even testing to make sure the dredged material is not contaminated,” said Bill Davis, director of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter. “And the bill gives away public lake bed.”

‘Developer grab bag’

AB 582/SB 464 would prohibit counties from placing moratoriums on new development. It also would prevent local governments from creating zoning requirements in response to a developer expressing an interest in locating there, according to the WLCV.

The measure would provide financial incentives to develop land that is held in conservation easements and allow developers to shop around for a judge if there is a challenge to a permit.

The Senate Committee on Insurance, Housing and Trade held a hearing on Jan. 5 on SB 464, which has the support of WEC Energy Group, Wisconsin Builders Association and Wisconsin Realtors Association.

Opponents include Clean Wisconsin, League of Women Voters, River Alliance, Sierra Club, the town of Saratoga and WLCV.

“The polluter and developer grab bags open the floodgates for developers, frac sand mining companies, factory farms and other special interests to make our water dirtier, fill in our wetlands and run roughshod over local communities and private citizens,” Schumann said.

Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator with the Sierra Club, added, “This bill provides more giveaways to major corporations, like frac sand and oil pipeline companies, and removes the rights of landowners across Wisconsin to enjoy their land.”

Also on the watch list this session …

• SB 479 was the subject of a Jan. 5 hearing held by the Senate Committee on Insurance, Housing and Trade. Backers include a union local — the Madison Area Builders Association.

Opponents maintain the measure would undermine Dane County’s authority on zoning and thus threaten local protections for wildlife and habitat. 

“This is another example of the state legislators attacking local control and making decisions that should be made at the local level,” said Dave Blouin, chair of Sierra’s Four Lakes Group.

• SB 434 would open up more state forests to timber production. The bill also would prohibit the state Department of Natural Resources from offering guidance to property owners on wildlife action plans or requiring property owners to take action to protect species at risk.

The state’s lobbying records show the Sierra Club joining WLCV in opposing the measure, which has support from Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, Wisconsin Alliance of Forest Owners, Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin County Forests Association, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

The Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry held a hearing on the bill on Jan. 5.

• SB 432 would promote privatizing Wisconsin’s water by allowing communities to sell water utilities to private out-of-state companies. The Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Public Works and Military Affairs held a Jan. 5 hearing on the measure, which is backed by some labor groups and opposed by environmental groups.

• AB 603 would prohibit counties from enacting stronger protections for waters if local authorities determined state minimum standards were insufficient.

The Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage held a hearing on Jan. 6 on the bill, which is opposed by WLCV, Clean Lakes Alliance, Clean Wisconsin, River Alliance and Wisconsin Association of Lakes.

• SB 288 would remove the nuclear moratorium, lifting barriers to constructing new nuclear power plants in the state. It includes the requirement that new plants have a plan of action for dealing with hazardous waste.

Additionally, the bill would put nuclear energy on the list of preferred energy options in the state — despite high costs associated with production and major concerns about the disposal of waste and dismantling of outdated facilities.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy held a hearing Jan. 5 on the measure, which has overwhelming support from energy companies, labor unions and trade associations.

Opponents include the Citizens Utility Board, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and environmental groups.

Action alert

Track Wisconsin environmental issues at conservationvoters.org, the website for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

Track legislation at notify.legis.wisconsin.gov.

Sandra Bland’s mother: Trooper perjury charge ‘not justice’

The mother of a black woman found dead in a Texas jail cell after a traffic stop in July expressed outrage this week that the white state trooper who pulled her over was only charged with nothing more than perjury. And even on that misdemeanor, Sandra Bland’s anguished mother said she had little confidence in the prospect of a conviction.

Geneva Reed-Veal told reporters in Chicago the trooper should have been charged with assault, battery and false arrest.

“To charge this guy with a misdemeanor, are you kidding me?” she said of the perjury charge, which carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. “I’m angry, absolutely. … That’s not justice for me.”

Bland, a 28-year-old former resident of Naperville, Illinois, was stopped in July for an improper lane change. The stop quickly escalated into a shouting match and a physical confrontation in which the trooper threatened to use a stun gun. Bland was arrested on suspicion of assaulting the trooper. Authorities say Bland hanged herself in her jail cell three days later.

Trooper Brian Encinia was indicted Wednesday by a grand jury in Texas on allegations that he lied when he claimed in an affidavit that Bland was “combative and uncooperative” after he pulled her over during the traffic stop and ordered her out of her car.

Hours after the indictment, the Texas Department of Public Safety said it would “begin termination proceedings” against Encinia, who has been on paid desk duty since Bland was found dead in her cell.

Reed-Veal said the trooper should not be out on the street “to infect anyone else’s life.”

The family has filed a civil rights lawsuit that it hopes will shed more light on what happened to Bland and compel authorities to release documents, including a Texas Rangers investigation into the case. Authorities had withheld the Rangers report, citing the grand jury process that has now finished.

Reed-Veal said the separate criminal proceedings in the trooper’s case would not bring “true justice.”

“Who is going to prosecute this guy? Is it the same group of folks who selected the grand jury?” she said, chuckling in apparent disbelief. “… I don’t trust the process.”

Encinia was not immediately taken into custody, and an arraignment date has not yet been announced. Encinia could not be reached for comment; a cellphone number for him was no longer working.

Bland’s arrest and death provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protesters questioned officials’ assertion that Bland killed herself and linked her to other blacks killed in confrontations with police or who died in police custody, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Encinia pulled Bland over on July 10 for making an improper lane change near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, where she had just interviewed for and accepted a job.

Dashcam video from Encinia’s patrol car shows Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, “I will light you up!” Bland eventually steps out of the vehicle, and Encinia orders her to the side of the road. She can later be heard off-camera screaming that he’s about to break her wrists and complaining that he knocked her head into the ground.

Encinia wrote in his affidavit that he had Bland exit the vehicle and handcuffed her after she became combative, and that she swung her elbows at him and kicked him in his right shin. Encinia said he then used force “to subdue Bland to the ground” and she continued to fight back. He arrested her, alleging assault on a public servant.

Bland was taken to the Waller County jail in Hempstead, Texas, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. Three days later, she was found hanging from a jail cell partition with a plastic garbage bag around her neck. The grand jury has already declined to charge any sheriff’s officials or jailers in her death.

Reward offered in case of sexual abuse of pregnant horse in Wisconsin

The Humane Society of the United States is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for sexually abusing a pregnant horse in Waupaca County.

According to The Humane Society, a Waupaca County farmer called authorities after finding his 15-year-old pregnant horse bleeding and injured on Nov. 29. He believes the incident happened that morning or the night before.

The Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case, which is a violation of the Wisconsin law 951.02 Mistreating animals. Waupaca County Sheriff Brad Hardel said he thinks a sort of hobbling device was used to sexually assault the horse.

Hardel is asking for anyone who may have information about the crime to contact the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office at 715-258-4466.

Melissa Tedrowe, Wisconsin state director for The HSUS said in a news release, “Animal sexual abuse is a serious issue closely linked to pedophilia and human sexual violence. I’m glad The HSUS is able to assist the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office with a reward to help identify this dangerous predator in our community.”

Hardel is asking for anyone who may have information about the crime to contact the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office at 715-258-4466.

The HSUS recently doubled its standard cruelty reward from $2,500 to $5,000 thanks to a generous donation from an HSUS board member.

Safety concerns raised over ride-sharing services

One of the early lessons children learn is to never get into a stranger’s car. They carry that lesson into adulthood, with an exception for hailing a taxi.

But what about lining up a ride via Uber, Lyft or another ride-sharing service? Safety advocates say they have serious concerns about the security of passengers in Uber vehicles, especially female passengers.

Uber operates in more than 250 cities in more than 50 countries. In May, the company announced an expansion of services in Wisconsin and now has contracted drivers operating in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, Lake Geneva, Waukesha and the Wisconsin Dells. 

Uber, in its Wisconsin announcement, said the expansion “followed passage of statewide regulations that have created a framework that embraces ride-sharing across Wisconsin.”

“In Wisconsin, our ride-sharing service UberX offers Uber convenience with prices cheaper than a taxi,” the company stated. “UberX driver partners have vehicles in a variety of colors and styles, with seating for up to four passengers.”

Passengers pay a base fee, plus costs per minute and per mile, with minimum fares set in some communities.

Ride-sharing is a service that’s particularly popular with young, urban adults.

“I don’t have a car and I don’t want one,” said Emily Brune, 21, of Madison. “But I can’t walk or bike everywhere and Uber has been the perfect answer for me and some of my friends.”

Michael Clauson, 28, of Milwaukee, is another customer and he’s considering becoming a driver.

“I like the idea that you can just work when you want,” Clauson said. “For someone who wants to make some extra money, that’s cool.”

Uber conducts background checks on driver applicants.

“To maintain the Uber standard you expect, all driver partners must undergo Uber’s rigorous screening process and every ride is covered by our $1 million commercial liability insurance policy,” the company said in introducing its Wisconsin operation. “After every trip, riders and drivers rate one another on a scale of one to five stars to maintain a safe and respectful environment for all users.”

However, Uber’s drivers are contractors, not employees, and the terms of service for passengers say the company “does not guarantee the quality, suitability, safety or ability of third-party providers.”

Over the past two years, there have been multiple reports of violence by Uber drivers against passengers. The Who’s Driving You? campaign — which was launched in 2014 by a trade association of taxicab, limousine and paratransit companies — collects and tracks complaints against Uber and Lyft drivers and reports of crimes.

The campaign’s website contains reports of drivers brandishing knives, negligent crashes, fights, thefts, kidnappings and rapes.

One report tracked by Who’s Driving You? involved a driver in D.C. who delivered an anti-gay tirade and assaulted a passenger who burped. Another involved a D.C. passenger suing Uber for $2 million after a driver repeatedly stabbed him.

In Los Angeles earlier this year, an Uber driver was arrested for attempted second-degree burglary. He allegedly dropped a female passenger off at the airport and then went to her home to break in. The woman’s roommate thwarted the attempt.

In Massachusetts, an Uber driver accused of raping a female passenger in December has now been linked by DNA evidence and witness accounts to five other sexual assaults between 2006 and 2010.

There have been at least three other assault-related incidents reported in the Boston area, as well as violent crimes reported in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Uber drivers also have been arrested in England and India for sexually assaulting passengers. A lawsuit filed early this year after the rape of a female passenger in India described Uber’s service as the “modern-day equivalent of electronic hitchhiking.”

In March, Uber responded to the concerns with a new code of conduct for drivers and passengers, a quality assurance program, worldwide incident response teams, stronger partnerships with law enforcement and improved background checks.

Uber also pledged new technology updates for safety. In India, the Uber platform features an SOS button so riders can contact local law enforcement directly from the app in emergencies. Another feature enables riders to keep multiple people informed of their exact location at all times while riding with Uber.

“With more than a million rides per day in 295 cities and 55 countries, continually improving rider and driver safety is the most critical component of what we do,” stated Phillip Cardenas, head of global safety at Uber.

But concerns continue. Referring to “multiple accounts of sexual and violent assaults that have been reported to date,” a petition circulating on Change.org asks Uber to provide an option for female passengers to choose female drivers.

Another issue of concern is the impact of Uber and other ride-sharing services on the economy. Uber drivers — who set their own hours — collect a fee from passengers and Uber takes a commission from the fees. Uber drivers don’t earn the wages of taxi drivers and other transportation workers and could negatively impact wages in the field.

Earlier this summer, progressive New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to limit the number of Uber drivers on the streets, putting him at odds with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, says she wants to crack down on companies that classify workers as contractors rather than employees. These companies avoid the costs associated with hiring personnel, put the burden of some expense on their contractors and earn profits off those contractors.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently responded to Clinton by taking an Uber ride in San Francisco.

Bush’s driver, however, didn’t recognize the candidate and told reporters he probably would vote for Clinton.

Trial likely for 3 in slur-filled attack on gay couple

Zachary Hesse and his boyfriend were moving on from a frozen yogurt stop toward a pizza joint in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood when they came across eight to 10 young adults out on the town.

One of the revelers, using profanity and slurs, asked if they were gay, Hesse testified on Dec. 15. Hesse said they were, echoing the same crude language, and they soon found themselves surrounded.

Hesse said he was pushed, pushed back and was promptly punched in the face.

“After that, it just kind of got messy,” Hesse, 28, testified before a judge upheld felony assault and conspiracy charges against two young men and a woman, the daughter of a suburban police chief. “(I felt) terrified.”

In a matter of minutes, boyfriend Andy Haught was lying in a pool of blood with a broken jaw and broken cheekbones. A nearby resident called 911, and the group took off.

The incident in downtown Philadelphia’s tony Rittenhouse neighborhood swirled on news and social media sites in September. It has alternately been described as a routine street fight or a homophobic attack in a state that doesn’t include sexual orientation in its hate crime law.

“I think this court knows, it’s going to be an interesting trial,” Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry said, asking Common Pleas Judge Charles Hayden to leave the answer to a jury.

The judge agreed and ordered the defendants to return to court in January to enter pleas.

Security video posted online by police helped identify the group, many of them friends from their days at a suburban Catholic high school. Defense lawyers vow to mount a vigorous defense for their clients – 24-year-old Philip Williams, of Warminster; 24-year-old Kathryn Knott, of Southampton; and 26-year-old Kevin Harrigan, of Warrington.

In court this week, defense lawyers compared the case to a street brawl, arguing that both parties took part.

“We don’t have a conspiracy, a wolf pack, a group of young people seeking to beat people up on the streets of Philadelphia,” defense lawyer Fortunato Perri Jr. argued.

Prosecutors took a darker view and called the initial query about the men’s sexuality “fighting words.”

“They got attacked just for being who they were,” Barry said.

He said defendant Harrigan ignited the fight when he hurled a slur at Hesse and threw the first punch.

Witness Geoff Nagle, who was looking out a third-floor window, said he saw a woman pointing a finger at one of the victims and then heard three to four punches land. He took a cellphone photo and called 911.

Prosecutors said they believe co-defendant Williams moved through the crowd to “sucker-punch” Haught. However, the defense said he went to Knott’s aid after Haught struck her.

“Phil Williams is not initially an aggressor here,” Perri argued. “He gets involved after a female is punched. … That is actually justified, under the circumstances.”

NC church members indicted in beating of gay man

For Matthew Fenner, a crowd of parishioners gathering around him in a church sanctuary after a prayer service was a sign of trouble.

Within minutes, he said they began to berate him because he was gay. One woman told him he was “disgusting.” Then for two hours, they pushed and hit Fenner, screaming at him as they tried to “break me free of the homosexual ‘demons,’” he said in a police affidavit about the Jan. 27, 2013 attack.

Nearly two years later, five Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, North Carolina, members have been indicted for kidnapping and assault in connection with Fenner’s beating.

But the case has opened new wounds in the rural North Carolina community where the church has been a lightning rod of controversy.

Now a student at the University of North Carolina, the 21-year-old Fenner told The Associated Press that he believed his life was in danger that night.

He said he had to press authorities to investigate his allegations because of the church’s influence in the community.

“The line between religion and abuse, they are crossing it quite severely. That’s why I’m doing this. They have to know you cannot hurt people,” he said.

But Joshua Farmer, whose law firm is representing the five church members, said that was nonsense.

“In short, this stuff is an absolute complete fabrication,” Farmer told the AP. “They are innocent of the charges.”

This is the latest controversy to surround the church founded in 1979 by Sam and Jane Whaley. The church, which has 750 members and operates a 35-acre complex in the rural community of Spindale, has been accused for years of enforcing extensive control over its congregation.

Former members say they were told by church leaders where to live and work, what to read, how to dress and when to have sex with their spouses.

Word of Faith also practices “blasting,” a form of hands-on, high-pitched, screaming prayer. The church says it doesn’t celebrate Christmas and other holidays because of their pagan origins.

The church was investigated twice in the late 1990s for its treatment of children but was cleared of any wrongdoing.

In recent years, national gay rights groups have criticized Word of Faith after several young men — whose parents are church members — claimed they were abused because they are gay.

“It’s pretty clear to me … that these individuals wanted to inflict pain on Matthew because of his sexual orientation,” said Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, a group that addresses harm done to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people by “misguided religious teachings.”

Several telephone messages for church leaders, including Jane Whaley, were not returned. But Whaley has told the AP that her church has become a “target” — and they have spent millions in the past fighting off claims of abuse.

Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis and District Attorney Brad Greenway did not return telephone messages.

Justin Covington, 20, of Rutherfordton; Brooke Covington, 56, of Rutherfordton; Robert Walker Jr., 26, of Spindale; and Adam Bartley, 25, of Rutherfordton have been indicted on one count each of second-degree kidnapping and simple assault.

Sarah Covington Anderson, 27, of Rutherfordton, faces the same charges _ and one count of assault inflicting physical injury by strangulation. It’s unclear how the Covingtons are related, but the indictments show they live at the same Rutherfordton address.

The police documents and interviews with Fenner reveal details of the case.

Fenner’s family joined the church a few years ago at a time when Fenner said he was struggling with his sexuality.

He said he decided to attend the church and its school because of his mother.

“My mom and I were always really close and I just thought maybe I can keep an open mind and see if it works — see if I can change. Obviously, that was really a stupid decision because you can’t change who you are. But in my mind it seemed like the right thing to do,” he said.

During that period, he said he became a tutor, helping other students at the church, and going to services. He said church members suspected he was gay _ and later began harassing him, the police affidavit said.

But Fenner said nothing prepared him for what happened on Jan. 27, 2013.

After a nighttime church service, three members asked him to go to the back of the sanctuary.  In the affidavit, Fenner said the three were soon joined by about 20 others and they surrounded him. And that’s when “deliverance soon ensued.”

He said they began pushing him and hitting him and using “other violent measures” that were all part of the church’s way of trying to cure him of being gay.

It lasted about two hours before they let him leave.

When he got home, he said he told his mother, but she didn’t believe him _ even though he said he was covered in bruises.

He said he went to his grandparents’ house and he called the sheriff’s office. And he said that was the beginning of his struggle to get law enforcement to take action.