The announcement Thursday that the three suspects held in connection with the brutal beating of openly gay actor Trev Broudy and another man will not be charged with a hate crime angered residents and politicians in West Hollywood, Calif., where the attack occurred last month. Hundreds took to the streets in central West Hollywood shortly after the announcement of the decision not to file hate-crime charges.
According to a press release issued from the office of Los Angeles County district attorney Steve Cooley, suspects Larry Walker, Vincent Dotson, and Torwin Sessions were charged Thursday with assault, robbery, and conspiracy, but not with a hate crime.
"Although the media has for weeks portrayed a series of attacks on gay men in West Hollywood as hate crimes, a thorough review of the evidence by the District Attorney's Hate Crimes Unit determined the true motive was robbery and two of the defendants have previously been convicted of robbery," said Cooley in a written statement. "The evidence developed by sheriff's investigators is that these three defendants set out on September 1 to rob people. Detectives are continuing this investigation. If evidence develops for other crimes, the complaint will be amended.''
Representatives from the sheriff's office immediately contradicted Cooley, saying that they had recommended that prosecutors file hate-crime charges. "Our entire community in West Hollywood, including the sheriff's department, is extremely disappointed," deputy sheriff Don Mueller told the Los Angeles Times. "Based on our interview with the suspects and the information they admitted to, we believe that there is evidence to go forward with a hate-crime charge."
Gay rights activists were outraged by the D.A.'s announcement, especially since eyewitnesses to the Labor Day weekend attack say that the suspects yelled antigay slurs during the assault on Broudy and his friend. Hate-crime charges automatically enhance the severity of penalties for a given offense.
Protesters at Thursday night's rally carried signs calling for Cooley's recall and asking "If this is not a hate crime, what is?" Spontaneous chants included "Recall Cooley," "It was hate," and "We won't go back."
"To suggest that this was an attempted robbery is ludicrous," said West Hollywood city councilman John Duran, who was at the rally to protest Cooley's decision. "We have a message for the district attorney: Robbers don't use pipes and bats to rob people."
"They didn't bash in Trev Broudy's head because they wanted his wallet," said West Hollywood mayor pro tem Steve Martin. "They did it because he is an openly gay man who was expressing affection for another man." Broudy reportedly had just hugged a friend on the street before the two were attacked. "And if the district attorney doesn't understand that," Martin added, "it's time to get a new district attorney. We will not allow Steve Cooley to trivialize the life of Trev Broudy."
Duran noted that it was 13 years ago this weekend that gays and lesbians took to the streets to protest then-California governor Pete Wilson's veto of a state gay rights law that had passed the legislature and that he had promised to sign. Duran noted that a small rally one night grew into an angry demonstration involving thousands of people on the next night. Indeed a second protest of the D.A.'s decision was confirmed for Friday night in West Hollywood at the same location, Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards, at 7:30 pm.
Several politicians and their representatives addressing the 300 protesters Thursday said they were in the process of appealing to the governor, Gray Davis, and the state attorney general, Bill Lockyer, to force Cooley to file hate-crime charges in the attacks or to file such charges on a state level. "Senator [Sheila] Kuehl will be calling Steve Cooley, and she will be calling her friends in high places, which are many," said a representative for the openly gay state legislator, who represents West Hollywood. "She wants you to know that given the circumstances in this case, she seriously questions the will of Steve Cooley's office to prosecute [any] hate crimes."
Duran, Martin, West Hollywood city councilman Jeffrey Prang, and state assemblyman Paul Koretz also said they would appeal to the D.A.'s office and to the attorney general to reconsider the decision. Koretz called Cooley's decision not to file hate-crime charges "one of the biggest prosecutorial mistakes I can remember."
"If the D.A.'s office won't listen to us, we can take this to the state attorney general's office, who will listen to us," said Prang. "If this is not a hate crime, I don't know what is."
The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center issued a statement Thursday voicing concern, and the center's legal services director, Roger Coggan, spoke at the rally, praising the West Hollywood sheriff's office's work in the case. Sheriff's deputies were enthusiastically applauded by the crowd.
"Antiviolence advocates and law enforcement officials believe that Trev Broudy was deliberately targeted because he is gay," said Rebecca Isaacs, interim executive director of the center, in the written statement. "Given these facts, it is necessary to the community that these attacks be recognized as hate crimes, so that we can raise awareness and work together as a society to reduce hatred and violence. When a hate crime goes unacknowledged, the crime and the victim become invisible; it reduces faith in the legal system and impedes the ability of the community to heal. We must send a message that hate crimes will not be tolerated."
"Our people have paid in blood for this city," Duran said at the rally, "and we will not stand by quietly for this decision."