Tag Archives: hate crime

Idaho man pleads not guilty to hate crime in killing of gay man

An Idaho man charged with a federal hate crime in the beating death of a gay man pleaded not guilty in Boise’s U.S. District Court.

A March trial was set for 23-year-old Kelly Schneider, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in state court this week.

He was indicted earlier this month on the hate crime charge that accused him of attacking Steven Nelson last year because he was gay.

Few documents have been filed in the federal court case so far, but the details of the attack are outlined in the related state court case: Prosecutors say Schneider used an online personals ad on Backdoor.com to lure the 49-year-old Nelson to a remote recreation area near Lake Lowell in southwestern Idaho.

There Nelson was robbed, stripped, beaten and left.

Despite being critically injured, naked and barefoot, Nelson managed to walk to a home about a half-mile away for help. He was able to give police information before he died a few hours later.

Schneider pleaded guilty in state court to first-degree murder.

But Idaho’s state hate crime law doesn’t extend protections to people who are gay or lesbian, and so Schneider was transferred to federal custody to face the hate crime charge.

Schneider was one of four men charged in connection with the attack in Idaho’s state courts.

On Monday, Schneider pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, saying that he intended to rob Nelson but not kill him. He acknowledged that he kicked Nelson repeatedly and that his actions caused Nelson’s death.

In exchange for his guilty plea, state prosecutors agreed to drop robbery, theft and conspiracy charges. He now faces life in state prison, as well as a possible life sentence in federal prison if he is convicted on the federal hate crime charge.

The other three men in the state case — Jayson Woods, 28; Kevin R. Tracy, 21; and Daniel Henkel, 23 — are still awaiting trial on first-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy charges.

Schneider has a lengthy criminal history in Idaho. But the only other violent crime on his record is an injury to an officer conviction that appears to stem from his time spent in the Canyon County jail in 2012.

Still, Deputy Canyon County Prosecutor Chris Boyd said during Schneider’s state court arraignment last year that he believed Schneider had lured and beaten other victims many times before and the sheriff’s office said at the time they had received tips about others who may have been victimized in the same way.

However, no additional cases have been filed against Schneider in state court.

Mississippi man pleads guilty to hate crime in killing of transgender teen

A Mississippi man has pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime, admitting he killed Mercedes Williamson because she was a transgender girl.

Williamson was 17 years old and resided in Alabama at the time of her death.

Joshua Brandon Vallum, 29, of Lucedale, Mississippi, was charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The plea was announced by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi and FBI Agent Christopher Freeze.

“Our nation’s hate crime statutes advance one of our fundamental beliefs: that no one should have to live in fear because of who they are,” Lynch said in a news release.  “Today’s landmark guilty plea reaffirms that basic principle and it signals the Justice Department’s determination to combat hate crimes based on gender identity.

Lynch added, “While Mississippi convicted the defendant on murder charges, we believe in the fundamental value of identifying and prosecuting these bias-fueled incidents for what they are: acts of hate.  By holding accountable the perpetrator of this heinous deed, we reinforce our commitment to ensuring justice for all Americans.”

“Congress passed the Shepard-Byrd Act to protect our most vulnerable communities, including the transgender community, from harm,” said Gupta.  “No conviction, even such a historic one, can relieve the grief and anguish facing this victim’s family.  But this guilty plea sends an unequivocal message that violence based on one’s gender identity violates America’s defining values of inclusivity and dignity.”

According to admissions made as part of his guilty plea, in the late spring or early summer of 2014, Vallum, a member of the Gulf Coast Chapter of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation, began a sexual relationship with Williamson.  During his romantic relationship with Williamson, Vallum kept the sexual nature of the relationship, secret from his family, friends and other members of the Latin Kings.

Around August or September 2014, Vallum terminated his romantic and sexual relationship with Williamson and had no contact with her until May 2015.

On May 28, 2015, Vallum decided to kill Williamson after learning that a friend had discovered Williamson was transgender.  Vallum, according to his admission, believed he would be in danger if other Latin Kings members discovered that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a transgender teenager.

On May 29, 2015, Vallum went to Alabama to find Williamson, planning to take Williamson to Mississippi and kill her there.

After locating Williamson at her residence, he used false pretenses to lure Williamson into his car so he could drive her to Mississippi. Vallum drove Williamson to his father’s residence in Lucedale, where he parked behind the house.  As Williamson sat in the vehicle’s passenger seat, he assaulted her.  After using a stun gun to electrically shock Williamson in the chest, Vallum repeatedly stabbed Williamson with a 75th Ranger Regiment pocket knife. Williamson attempted to flee at least twice, but Vallum pursued her. He repeatedly stabbed his victim and hit her with a hammer.

Later, Vallum falsely claimed to law enforcement that he killed Williamson in a panic after discovering Williamson was transgender.

In pleading guilty on Dec. 21, Vallum acknowledged that he had lied about the circumstances surrounding Williamson’s death and that he would not have killed Williamson if she was not transgender.

Vallum faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine for the federal crime.

He previously pleaded guilty to murdering Williamson in George County, Mississippi, Circuit Court, where he was sentenced to life in prison.

The federal government prosecuted the hate crime charge because Mississippi does not have a hate crimes statute that protects people from bias crimes based on their gender identity.

Site says New Balance official shoe for white supremacists

A white supremacist website has declared footwear manufacturer New Balance the “Official Shoes of White People.”

The Boston Globe reported the alt-right website The Daily Stormer made the proclamation over the weekend, after New Balance vice president of public affairs Matt LeBretton praised Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

LeBretton told the Wall Street Journal that the election of Trump was a move in the “right direction.”

New Balance, which is based in Boston, later said the comment was referencing Trump’s stance opposing a proposed international trade agreement.

“New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the U.S., not less,” it said in a statement last week.

Still, LeBretton’s comment sparked protests.

People who don’t like Trump posted social media videos of themselves throwing their New Balance shoes in the trash or even burning them.

The Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin said he believes New Balance’s support of Trump could be a marketing scheme. But he said the website is campaigning to buy the company’s products and is encouraging others to do the same.

LeBretton didn’t immediately return a request for comment about the support from the white supremacist website.

New Balance, which also sells fitness apparel, said in a tweet during the burning-shoes protest that it believes in community, humanity and “acting with the utmost integrity” and that it welcomes “all walks of life.”

 

3 charged in hatchet attack on transgender woman

Charlotte, North Carolina, police say they’ve charged three people in a hatchet attack on a transgender woman.

Ralayzia Taylor tells local media she was attacked Nov. 7 in a park.

She thinks the group wanted to rob her and intensified their attack after they realized she’s transgender.

The 24-year-old Taylor says one attacker cut her with a hatchet and they used gay slurs.

The FBI says it is working with Charlotte police in the investigation.

The Mecklenburg County Jail website says 18-year-olds Dajion Tanner and Destiny Dagraca face charges including attempted first-degree murder. Police say a 15-year-old also was arrested.

It wasn’t clear if they have attorneys.

North Carolina is in the midst of a fight over LGBT rights after the state passed a law limiting where transgender people can use the bathroom.

Wisconsin legislator announces ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bill

A Wisconsin legislator announced a “Blue Lives Matter” bill Monday to make targeting law enforcement officers a hate crime in the wake of the Dallas shooting that killed five officers last week.

Rep. David Steffen, a Green Bay Republican, said he believes the law enforcement community deserves the additional protection of hate crime laws, adding Wisconsin to a growing list of states discussing similar bills.

Louisiana became the first state to enact a Blue Lives Matter law in May, allowing prosecutors to seek stronger penalties when police, firefighters and emergency medical crews are intentionally targeted because of their professions. Lawmakers in at least 13 other states and in Congress have floated similar proposals.

Blue Lives Matter laws have failed in four states and is pending in five others and in Congress, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lawmakers in at least four other states have said they plan to introduce similar legislation but haven’t officially done so.

Steffen said his proposal is “a small, single step” that Wisconsin can take to “reinforce its commitment” to supporting and protecting law enforcement officers.

But Republicans in Madison have cut back severely on revenue sharing with cities, which has made it more difficult for municipalities to maintain an adequate number of police officers and fire fighters. Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011–13 budget cut shared revenue by 9 percent, the biggest cut in at least a decade.

The cuts endanger safety both for professionals and the public.

The reduction in shared revenue are partly the result of massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Wisconsinites. About 78 percent of Walker’s tax cuts have gone to the state’s top 0.2 percent of earners.

But civil rights organizations and activist groups have criticized Blue Lives Matter bills for other reasons, saying a person’s profession should not be included with race, religion and other characteristics that are protected under hate crime laws.

Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said police officers and their families won’t be helped by “a heighted sense of victimization.”

“We should recognize the stress they confront, but piling on by claiming that there is a war against police, or that the law isn’t already penalizing attacks on police severely, does a disservice to everyone,” he said in an emailed statement.

In Wisconsin, people convicted of a crime can face an enhanced penalty if they targeted the victim based on their race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry. If deemed a hate crime, the penalty for a felony can carry an additional $5,000 fine and an additional five years in prison. The penalty increase for misdemeanors deemed hate crimes depends on the severity of the crime, possibly including additional jail time and thousands of dollars in additional fines.

Steffen’s Blue Lives Matter bill, which he plans to formally introduce in January, would extend hate crime protection to law enforcement officers.

“Law enforcement isn’t just some profession. It is one upon which our quality of life largely depends,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state’s largest police union.

Palmer said the legislation would send an important, symbolic message, but that the Legislature could do other things to better protect officers and support law enforcement, including ensuring adequate staffing and improved training. He said legislation to protect law enforcement and efforts to resolve problems between officers and their communities shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

We are Orlando: Wisconsin mourns after Pulse shooting

On the opening evening of PrideFest Milwaukee 2014, joy swept through the Summerfest grounds as news that a federal judge had overturned the state law banning same-sex marriage spread quickly.

The final day of PrideFest this year brought very different emotions, as the community struggled to comprehend the calculated, hate-driven slaughter of at least 49 people in a gay dance club in Orlando, Florida.

It was the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

News of the massacre spread slowly through Milwaukee June 12. Some spectators at the annual Milwaukee Pride Parade in Walker’s Point learned about it from a banner carried by marchers representing the Democratic Party of Wisconsin that read, “Wis Dems Stand in Solidarity Orlando.”

As Milwaukee was winding up its Pride weekend, the bodies of the fallen were being removed from Pulse Orlando, where “Latin Night” was turned into a bloodbath when Omar Mateen, 29, entered the club near closing time and shot 102 revelers. The majority of those killed were gay Hispanic men.

Investigators and people who knew and worked with Mateen have described him as an angry, unhinged bigot who bragged about his ties to various Islamic terrorist groups. He was a familiar face at Pulse, and he’d carefully planned his attack in advance.

PRIDEFEST RESPONDS

Law enforcement officials notified PrideFest organizers about the atrocity early June 12. Acting together, PrideFest staff and public safety officers worked to expand the Milwaukee Police Department’s presence at the event. Volunteers stepped up to increase the festival’s security staff.

Bereavement counselors were present to speak with people traumatized by the pervasive news about the attack. Festival organizers created a makeshift shrine on the lakefront where people could pay silent respect to the slain.

PrideFest also scheduled a 4 p.m. memorial service, where Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the rainbow-colored word “Proud,” joined others at the podium on the mainstage to deliver calls for unity.

But, primarily they urged Milwaukeeans not to succumb to fear.

“Today is a day to come out, to be seen and to be heard, in honor of those whose day was stolen from them,” said PrideFest communications director Michail Takach in a news release distributed before the festival grounds opened June 12. “Today is a day to remember where we started and why we started. Today is a day for solidarity.”

VIGILS ACROSS THE STATE

In the aftermath of the tragedy, LGBT Wisconsinites and their allies came together in vigils throughout the state. People gathered to express their grief, denounce hatred and call for gun control. Flags flew at half-staff in Milwaukee and other cities.

Milwaukee’s vigil took place June 13 outside the south entrance of Milwaukee City Hall, which was draped with a giant rainbow flag. Hundreds of people crowded the wide intersection at East Wells and North Water streets. Some held candles and others miniature rainbow flags or U.S. flags donated by Oak Creek-based Eder Flag Manufacturing Co., which has a distribution facility in the Orlando area.

Organizers of the vigil were Milwaukee Pride, Diverse & Resilient, Islamic Society of Milwaukee, UWM LGBT Resource Center, Cream City Foundation, Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Planned Parenthood, FORGE, Milwaukee Metropolitan Community Church, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and several other groups.

Speaker Brenda Coley cautioned listeners “not to make this about Islam — it’s about homophobia through and through.” She urged her audience to bring people together and counter hate.

Karen Gotlzer, the executive director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, also spoke, reminding the crowd that despite the legalization of same-sex marriage and other recent strides toward equality, what happened in Orlando “reminds us that we have very much to do.”

“This happened against a backdrop of anti-LGBT legislation that is sweeping the country,” Gotzler said, referring to the recent enactment of “bathroom bills” in some states, most famously in North Carolina. The laws ban transgender people from using restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. Wisconsin Republicans tried to introduce such a law in the last session of the Legislature and have vowed to do so again.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett delivered a speech that brought many listeners to tears. He began by thanking “each and every one of you for being here tonight to demonstrate and display the humanity we have in this city.”

“As Americans, when some of us are hurting, all of us are hurting,” he said. “It is important for us to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community, with the Latino community. … That is why we are here tonight.

“There are those who try to divide us. They try to pit us against each other. We cannot allow that to happen. We are better than that.”

Barrett drew the most enthusiastic applause of the vigil when he denounced the easy access that people have to “weapons that were not designed for self-defense,” but rather were “designed to kill … dozens of people in a short amount of time.”

“We all know that we must do more than pray that the unjustified killings will be stopped,” he said. “We have to take action as well.”

In Madison, LGBT activist Callen Harty organized a June 12 candlelight vigil at the intersection of State Street and Capitol Square. About 100 people attended the memorial. Vigils were also held in Racine, Green Bay and Appleton.

RANGE OF REACTIONS

Many of the state’s public officials issued statements condemning what President Barack Obama called both an act of hate and an act of terrorism. Notably, not one Republican state official who issued a statement mentioned the word “gay” or the term “LGBT,” which mirrored Republican responses on the national level.

Gov. Scott Walker was heavily criticized for issuing a generic, one-sentence response to the massacre.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and other Democrats called for people to come together across the lines that divide us. In a statement June 12 on her Facebook page, Baldwin wrote: “This was not only a horrific attack on the LGBT community, it was an attack on the freedoms we all hold dear. The question now for America is are we going to come together and stand united against hate, gun violence and terrorism? I understand it may not be easy, but I know we are better than this and it is past time to act together.”

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, took GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump to task for claiming the shooting validated his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants — even though Mateen was born in the United States. Ortiz blasted Trump for using “this tragedy as a platform for Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism.”

“The young people in Pulse on Saturday night painted a beautiful picture of what our society could be: diverse, brown, queer, liberated, dancing, a world defined by love, not borders,” Neumann-Ortiz said in her statement.

At the end of the Milwaukee vigil, the giant bell atop city hall tolled 14 times, one for each occasion that the president has issued a statement responding to a mass killing in the United States.

Other than the somber sound of the bell, all that could be heard were seagulls and sobs.

 

Terror in the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’

An act of terror.

An act of hate.

The world responded with love and compassion, fury and fight.

Early on the morning of June 12, a gunman armed with an assault rifle and a handgun went on a rampage at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida. He killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others — some gravely.

The 29-year-old killer was an American who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, abused his wife, used slurs against blacks, Jewish people, women and gays — although he himself was a regular patron of Pulse. He went on to terrorize LGBT people in that place that existed to celebrate Pride and provide sanctuary.

Orlando — famously known as the “Happiest Place on Earth” — became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, a massacre that left Americans mourning the many lost and struggling to address extremism, prejudice and gun access.

“I can’t stop crying. I can’t make any sense of it all,” said Henry Rivera of Orlando, a transgender man who works at a restaurant just outside Disney World. “Everything seems different now.”

Music, dancing, and terror

On June 11, more than 300 people crowded into the high-energy club on South Orange Avenue for Latin night, an evening that promised entertainment by two drag performers, as well as dancing and music — salsa, meringue, bachata.

Shortly after 2 a.m. on June 12, Omar Mateen, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun, attacked the club, according to reports from the Orlando Police Department and FBI. As WiG to press, authorities were still compiling a detailed and complete timeline of what happened at Pulse.

Survivors described chaos as Mateen launched a barrage of bullets, striking people at the bar, on the dance floor, in the restrooms and elsewhere.

An off-duty Orlando police officer working as a security guard at the club responded to the gunfire. More officers arrived and Mateen retreated deeper into the club, then into a bathroom.

At 2:09 a.m. an alert was posted on Pulse’s Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”

Dozens of people ran from the club, and more than 100 police officers responded to what became a standoff.

Police believe Mateen killed most of his victims in the first 30 minutes. Those remaining in the bar were either hostages or in hiding.

At 2:39 a.m., Eddie Justice texted his mother from the bathroom in the club:

“Call them mommy”

“Now”

“I’m still in the bathroom”

“Hes coming”

“Im going to die.”

Justice did die. His last text from the club was at 2:50 a.m.

At about 5 a.m., police used a controlled explosion and an armored vehicle with a battering ram to clear a way for people inside the club to escape.

Mateen died in an exchange of gunfire with police shortly after that.

Violent, conflicted and radicalized

The killer talked with police three times during the standoff, FBI Director James B. Comey said in a televised news briefing from headquarters in Virginia on June 13. Comey said calls from the killer to law enforcement began about 2:30 a.m. During those calls, Mateen, who was born in New York, claimed allegiance to the leader of Islamic State, as well as to the perpetrators of the 2013 Boston Marathon attack and to a Florida man who died as a suicide bomber in Syria.

“These are strong indications of radicalization by this killer and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorism organizations,” Comey said.

He added that the bureau, along with state and local law enforcement, were trying to understand “every moment of the killer’s path” leading up to the shooting.

The FBI was already familiar with Mateen. In May 2013, the bureau began investigating him after co-workers said the contract security guard made inflammatory comments and claimed a family connection to al-Qaida. He was interviewed twice but the case was closed.

Two months later, Mateen’s name came up as a casual acquaintance of a Florida man who blew himself up in Syria.

“Our investigation turned up no ties of any consequence between the two of them,” Comey said. “We will continue to look forward in this investigation and backward. We will leave no stone unturned.”

According to AP, the investigation found that Mateen, the son of an Afghan immigrant, was a body builder who attended a mosque in Fort Pierce, Florida, and wanted to become a police officer.

AP also reported there were questions emerging about whether Mateen was conflicted about his sexuality. He allegedly cased Gay Days at Disney World about a week before the shooting and was seen regularly at Pulse. He apparently used gay dating apps as well.

Mateen’s first wife, from whom he was divorced, has said he was abusive and suffered from mental illness. The killer’s father said Mateen expressed a hatred of gays, recently expressing anger at seeing two men kiss.

Mateen’s father also made homophobic remarks to the press, saying that it was wrong for his son to shoot gay people because their punishment should come from God.

“While the motive behind this crime remains unclear, our resolve to live openly and proudly remains undiminished. Now is a time for the whole nation to stand together against violence,” Rea Carey, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said June 12.

Chad Griffin, the president and CEO of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “This tragedy has occurred as our community celebrates Pride, and now more than ever we must come together as a nation to affirm that love conquers hate.”

Memorials and mobilizing

Vigils took place as early as June 12 and continued for days after the shooting.

Many of the observances included a moment of silence and a reading of the victims’ names (see “The slain, next page). Many vigils ended with candleholders singing “Over the Rainbow.”

Hundreds sang, “If happy little bluebirds fly/Beyond the rainbow why, oh, why can’t I?” at the end of a vigil June 13 in Sarasota, Florida, the hometown of Edward Sotomayor Jr., who recently helped to organize the first LGBT cruise from Florida to Cuba. Sotomayor was shot while trying to get his boyfriend to safety.

Many at the Sarasota vigil called the mass shooting a hate crime and, though there were demands for stricter gun control, the focus was on anti-LGBT violence.

“This attack was with guns, but our people have been killed with knives and bombs and fists, too,” said Patricia Callahan of Lakeland, Florida. “We can’t forget.”

Vigils took place across the country, at city halls and courthouses, plazas and parks, community centers and gay bars.

“This unimaginable atrocity has not only robbed countless people of their loved ones, it has also stolen a sense of safety within the LGBTQ community,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.

In New York City, many gathered outside the Stonewall Inn, considered the birthplace of the modern LGBT civil rights movement. There, they chanted, “No hate, no hate! More love, more love.”

In Wisconsin, multiple vigils took place, including in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and Appleton.

There also were many memorials outside the United States. In Paris, U.S. and gay Pride flags flew at city hall and the Eiffel Tower was lit up like a rainbow.

Heads of state sent letters of condolence and issued condemnations. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said his country stands “shoulder to shoulder with our American brothers and sisters,” and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah called the shooting a “senseless act of terror and hate.”

Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah urged “collective actions to end such attacks.”

At the United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein decried insufficient gun control in the United States and criticized the irresponsible pro-gun propagandizing in the country.

‘America’s rifle’

Criticism also was leveled in the United States.

The massacre is “a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship or in a movie theater or in a nightclub,” President Barack Obama said June 12, in remarks from the White House. “And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be.”

Mateen was armed with the handgun and a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle — marketed in the U.S. as a “modern sporting rifle.” He purchased it at the St. Lucie Shooting Center in Florida. Semi-automatic rifles also were used in mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; San Bernardino, California; and elsewhere. The NRA calls that weapon class “America’ rifle.”

After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, the president dedicated the start of his second term to pushing legislation that would have banned certain assault-style weapons and capped the size of ammunition clips. The effort, however, failed in the U.S. Senate due to heavy opposition from Republicans who are backed by the National Rifle Association.

In the years since, some reforms have taken place at the state level. But GOP-headed states, including Wisconsin, have enacted measures to weaken gun control laws.

On June 13, Senate Democrats renewed calls for reform and Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, repeated her call to keep weapons of war off the streets and “out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals.”

Clinton and the president postponed a campaign visit to Green Bay scheduled for June 15, as the president made plans to visit Orlando on June 16 to “stand in solidarity with the community.”

 

The slain

As WiG went to press, these were the known dead in the Pulse terror attack:

Stanley Almodovar III, 23; Amanda Alvear, 25; Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26; Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33; Antonio Davon Brown, 29; Darryl Roman Burt II, 29; Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28; Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25; Luis Daniel Conde, 39; Cory James Connell, 21; Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25; Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32; Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31; Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25; Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26; Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22; Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22; Paul Terrell Henry, 41; Frank Hernandez, 27; Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40; Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19; Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30; Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25; Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32; Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21; Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49; Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25; Kimberly Morris, 37; Akyra Monet Murray, 18; Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20; Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25; Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36; Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32; Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35; Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25; Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27; Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35; Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24; Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24; Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34; Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33; Martin Benitez Torres, 33; Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24; Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37; Luis S. Vielma, 22; Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50; Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37; Jerald Arthur Wright, 31.

 

Donations and support

Equality Florida, the statewide LGBT civil rights group, established a GoFundMe page to raise money to support those injured and the families of those killed at Pulse. Donations are accepted at www.gofundme.com/pulsevictimsfund.

The Associated Press contributed to these reports.

For updates and continued coverage, go to www.wisconsingazette.com.

 

What happens when gay bashing is not a hate crime

Last April, police say, a Marshall University football player saw two men kissing on a West Virginia street, hopped out of the passenger seat of a car, shouted homophobic slurs and attacked the men, punching them in the face.

Those charges against Steward Butler may sound like a textbook hate crime case. But, a year later, the former running no longer faces charges of violating the men’s civil rights.

That’s partly because West Virginia, like 19 other states, does not have a hate crime law that protects people targeted specifically because of their sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And while the U.S. Justice Department is still weighing its options in the case, some observers say it may not fit the federal definition of a hate crime, if only for technical reasons.

In a decision this month, Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Paul Farrell said West Virginia civil rights law protects people based on sex, but not sexual orientation, and ruled to drop the hate crime charges against Butler in 60 days, giving prosecutors time to appeal. Many other states specifically mention sexual orientation in listing the categories that elevate violence or threats of violence to a hate crime. West Virginia lawmakers had plenty of chances to follow suit but didn’t, Farrell wrote.

The ruling leaves two options for West Virginia prosecutors: hope for a favorable upcoming appeal with the state Supreme Court, or — if they lose — lobby for changes to state law with a Legislature that typically hasn’t added LGBT protections.

“I don’t know whether there’s really been an incident to highlight it until now,” said Cabell County Prosecutor Sean “Corky” Hammers. “We now have an incident where two men were battered and their rights were violated, and I think that even if we don’t win at the Supreme Court, we definitely put the spotlight on the statute that says, ‘hey, it should be interpreted to cover sexual orientation.’”

Butler — who was kicked off the Marshall football team after the attack, and did not graduate, according to school spokeswoman Ginny Painter — pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony civil rights violations and two counts of misdemeanor battery in June 2015 over in the incident in Huntington, an industrial city along the Ohio River that’s home to the university.

If convicted of violating the state’s civil rights law, Butler would have faced up to 10 years in prison, but with those charges dropped, he faces a maximum of two years on the misdemeanor counts.

So far, no federal charges have been brought under the U.S. hate crime law.

“(Federal prosecutors) certainly have not come knocking on my door at all to say, ‘Hey can we take a look at this case?”” Hammers said. The case remains open, according to an email from the office of U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson, but officials there declined to comment further.

The applicable federal law — called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act — makes it illegal to physically harm someone based on race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation, among other characteristics.

Butler’s case could fall under that law, but establishing federal jurisdiction might be tricky, said Seth Marnin of the Anti-Defamation League, which advocates for a variety of civil rights.

The federal law requires that the crime “affected interstate or foreign commerce or occurred within federal special maritime and territorial jurisdiction.” So, some connection often has to be drawn across state lines — for instance, in a shooting, if a gun was manufactured in another state.

That’s more difficult when a crime is committed with someone’s fists, as in the West Virginia case, Marnin said.

But Indiana University law professor Jeannine Bell said the federal law was crafted for this exactly type of case: “federal action for crimes that wouldn’t be prosecutable at the state level.”

Hammers has announced plans to appeal the decision to drop the state hate crime charges, giving justices another look at the case. The state Supreme Court declined to answer a previous question by Farrell about whether sexual orientation was covered under the category of “sex” in the state law.

Hammers has argued that sexual orientation should be covered under the category of sex, questioning, for instance: If one of the two men had been a woman, would the attack have happened?

In that vein, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has interpreted existing sex discrimination provisions to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender applicants and employees against employment bias.

But Butler’s attorney, Raymond Nolan, said in an interview he’s confident the law is as the circuit court judge ruled. “Had the Legislature intended to include sexual orientation in the ‘hate crime’ statute, they would have done so,” he said.

The law, which passed in 1987 and hasn’t been amended, protects residents against violence or the threat of violence base on their “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation or sex.” Attempts to add LGBT protections have had little success, whether under Democrats, or the more recently installed Republican legislative leadership.

Trump visit ignites town where Latino was killed in hate crime

By all accounts, tensions between Latino newcomers and whites have eased in the nearly eight years since a vicious hate-crime stabbing left an Ecuadorean immigrant dead.

Enter Donald Trump.

Trump’s appearance at a GOP fundraiser on Thursday just blocks from the site of the attack has ignited protests from Latinos, who fear the billionaire’s tough talk against immigrants could open old wounds and undo the progress that’s been made in the Long Island community.

“If he comes, there might be a toxic environment again. Maybe something bad happens,” 23-year-old Jocelyn Fajardo, who was born in New York City to Ecuadorean parents, said before the event. “Trump puts U.S. people against us, Latinos. He divides people.”

Joselo Lucero, whose brother was killed in the 2008 attack, says Patchogue is the wrong place for Trump to visit. “My community has suffered so much discrimination.”

So far, there’s been no comment on the controversy from Trump, who caused a firestorm on the first day of his campaign when he labeled illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and criminals, and he has repeatedly promised to build a massive wall along the border.

“I feel like that’s the only thing he talks about,” said businessman Angel Zhicay, 50, who is from Ecuador.

Thursday’s gala to raise funds for Republican candidates across eastern Long Island was held in a nightclub about 200 yards from the intersection where 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero was confronted by a gang of teens who admitted they regularly targeted Hispanic immigrants. They called the altercations “beaner hopping.”

Lucero was walking with a friend when the teens began yelling ethnic slurs and approached them. Lucero hit Jeffrey Conroy, then 17, in the head with a belt. Conroy lost his temper, took out a folding knife and fatally plunged it into Lucero’s chest.

Conroy was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The six others pleaded guilty to lesser crimes.

At the time of Lucero’s slaying, police acknowledged there had been a tense atmosphere in the town of nearly 12,000, including attacks on immigrant day laborers, but they say tensions have noticeably subsided. Last month, the top prize in the town’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade went to a group of Ecuadorean step dancers.

“As much as one might hear that hateful echo in Trump’s words today, it does not negate his right to speak,” Long Island newspaper Newsday said in an editorial Wednesday. “More important, his trip is a chance for Patchogue to tell the story of its progress.”

Activists held protests leading up to and during Trump’s appearance. About 100 people gathered outside the event holding signs decrying Trump and shouting. Several hundred also attended a vigil for Lucero held about an hour before Trump took the stage. This week at the site of the slaying, a sign reads: “Hate is not welcome in Patchogue. Make America Love Again.”

Trump made no mention Lucero or the protesters during his 20-minute speech Thursday evening. Speaking about his plan to build a build a massive wall along the border, Trump told his supporters: “I have great relationships with Mexico and Hispanic people.”

John Jay LaValle, chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, said Thursday’s event was scheduled more than two months ago and he invited every Republican candidate. He said Trump, who was recently endorsed by the county GOP, accepted only last week.

“While we offer the greatest empathy possible to the family of Marcelo Lucero,” LaValle said, “we can’t help but to be suspicious of the motives of those leading the charge to connect that vicious hate crime with Mr. Trump’s commitment to enforcement of immigration laws that have gone largely ignored by both parties for 30 years.”

Felix Diaz, 47, an emigrant from El Salvador who owns his own landscaping business, said he hopes Trump cancels.

“He talks about separating families,”  Diaz said of Trump. “I have two kids who are here undocumented, but I am not speaking for them only. I am speaking for the whole Latino community. Even if someone would pay me to go, I would never go and listen to him.”

 

Man accused of killing gay son charged with hate crime

Prosecutors allege a Los Angeles man fatally shot his son for being gay.

The son’s body was found outside a home where the perpetrator’s wife was found dead. He’s been charged with one count of premeditated murder as a hate crime.

Shehada Issa, 69, told police he shot his son Amir in self-defense after he discovered his wife’s body in their house. An investigation into Issa’s wife’s death is ongoing.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said that Issa had previously threatened to kill his 29-year-old son for being gay.

“The murder was committed because of the victim’s sexual orientation and because of the defendant’s perception of that status and the victims’ association with a person and a group of that status,” prosecutors said in a statement.

Issa was arrested after Los Angeles police officers found his son’s body outside their house. Issa’s wife was found stabbed to death inside the house.

Detectives said Issa told officers he found his wife’s body in a bathroom.

“He claimed (the son) was armed with a knife, and there was no knife to be found (there). It was a horrible family tragedy,” Detective John Doerbecker told the Daily News.

Authorities allege the father used a shotgun in the attack on his son, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Doerbecker told the Daily News that there had been problems between the father and son, including the son reportedly vandalizing the home. He said the couple was evicting the son.

Issa was being held without bail pending his arraignment on April 11.

He faces life in prison if convicted of the charge.