This is a developing story. Stay tuned for more updates.
UPDATE — June 29, 2015, 12:01 a.m. — This story has been updated with remarks from another eyewitness who disputes other accounts of the incident. This story was earlier updated on June 28, 2015, 8:04 p.m., with a statement from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department regarding police response times.
UPDATE — June 29, 2015, 9:14 a.m. — Family acquaintance speaks out on conflicting reports that suspect is himself gay, saying he is not, adding that suspect is still in Mecklenburg County Jail and that his parents have been advised to speak to an attorney before speaking to media.
UPDATE — July 1, 2015, 11:09 a.m. — Sunday’s story on the assault prompted a great deal of online conversation and criticism. Read our update on the story here.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A man has been arrested and charged with assault and communicating threats after an early Sunday morning incident at a local gay bar. During the incident, the man was allegedly ranting about the Supreme Court’s recent marriage equality decision. Patrons and community members are calling the assault a hate crime, but a friend of the suspect said Sunday she doesn’t believe he is homophobic and another eyewitness is disputing other accounts of the incident.
The incident occurred shortly before 2 a.m. on Sunday at The Bar at 316, an LGBT bar open in Dilworth under several names since 1989. The suspect, Lucas Dylan Wilhelmson, 21, allegedly harassed several patrons while using anti-gay slurs and later physically assaulted the bar’s owner, Jeff Edwards.
According to eye witnesses, Wilhelmson came into the bar at shortly after 1 a.m. and immediately began harassing patrons. A police report notes that Wilhelmson came into the bar at 1:50 a.m.
“He came in and began harassing a female patron, asking her if she knew this was a gay bar and beginning to fight with her friend, who he thought was her husband,” said Kolby Brinkley, Edwards’ partner and the bar’s general manager.
After that disagreement, Brinkley saw Wilhelmson exit the bar’s second floor through a fire escape. Edwards followed him down. Brinkley said Edwards did not want Wilhelmson, who he said was obviously intoxicated and had car keys, to drive away from the bar.
“Jeff wanted to call him a cab and make sure he wasn’t going to drink and drive,” Brinkley said.
But the incident only worsened when Edwards followed Wilhelmson, who apparently then began assaulting Edwards. A police report said Edwards was assaulted at least 15 times. A short video of the incident shared with qnotes by an eyewitness shows the suspect repeatedly choking, hitting and slapping Edwards, who apparently never struck the suspect.
The police report and eyewitnesses also said Wilhelmson threatened to come back to the bar and kill Edwards. Brinkley said Wilhelmson was ranting about his disagreement with Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.
Brinkley thinks the incident was motivated by hate and bias, a sentiment quickly spreading among patrons and community members online on Sunday evening.
“He came in here to start a fight,” Brinkley said. “From the second he started talking to people, it was downhill from there. He was looking for trouble. He said he was straight, but you could tell he obviously had deep issues from what he was saying and how he was acting. When he came in, he did not seem friendly at all.”
Edwards was not available for comment on Sunday and wasn’t at the bar, instead spending the day at home, according to Brinkley. Edwards suffered several scratches, bruises and swelling and has a sore neck today.
“I was just shocked by it all,” Brinkley added.
Friend, acquaintance dispute incident
An acquaintance of Wilhelmson and his family contacted qnotes Sunday evening saying she doubted the attack was due to homophobia.
“I know this boy, I know his family,” said JoJo Hammond, a lesbian who lives with her wife in Apex, near Wilhelmson’s family.
Hammond says Wilhelmson’s father plays in her band, and that Wilhelmson has been to her concerts. She’s known him for about a year, she said.
“When he gets a little drunk, he can be a little crazy, but I have never known him to be homophobic,” Hammond said. “When I heard of the story, I was very shocked that he would even be considered for a hate crime, because he’s just a nice kid. I have seen him when he’s had too much to drink, but a hate crime? I just don’t see that.”
Hammond pointed qnotes to a friend she said was with Wilhelmson at the bar. qnotes was unable to reach him via phone or through online messages.
Another acquaintance, Justin Hansil, told qnotes late Sunday evening that he felt the incident had been wrongly reported. He was at the bar when Wilhelmson arrived with a mutual friend at 12:36 a.m. Hansil said Wilhelmson began to get into altercations with other men on the bar’s second-floor balcony. Those disagreements, Hansil said, came after Wilhelmson began grabbing other men’s butts.
When Wilhelmson was confronted, Hansil said he replied, “Oh, I just thought you’d like it,” like “something out of a sexual harassment handbook,” Hansil said.
After another altercation with a friend of Hansil’s, Hansil told Wilhelmson to go back inside the bar. Hansil didn’t witness what led to Wilhelmson going downstairs, but said Wilhelmson “wasn’t being ridiculously violent” and he didn’t hear him say anything positive or negative about the Supreme Court decision, though he did hear profanity and slurs.
“He was just trying to argue inane subjects with [Edwards] and punctuating it with a punch to his stomach and face,” Hansil said, describing Wilhelmson’s comments as “things that a drunken person would repeat over and over again that doesn’t make any sense.”
qnotes has attempted to reach Wilhelmson, his father or an attorney through Hammond. The family acquaintance told qnotes that Wilhelmson does not yet have an attorney.
“His dad has been advised to wait until they talk to an attorney,” Hammond said. “For right now, I can be a liaison.”
Conflicting reports in online comment threads have debated whether or not Wilhelmson himself is gay. Hammond disputes that.
“No he is not gay,” she said.
Police response delayed by nearby disturbance
An eyewitness and Brinkley said several people called police multiple times. At least 30 minutes passed, they said, before police finally arrived.
“Why did it take police 8 phone calls and 35 minutes later to show up to someone getting beat and assaulted?” asked eyewitness Tyler Barker on Facebook. “Very disappointed in the police but thankful it didn’t turn out worst [sic] than it could have.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Public Affairs Coordinator told qnotes Sunday evening that the delayed response time was caused by a large disturbance near The Bar at 316.
“Officers were on the scene of a large disturbance involving more than 500 people on Randolph Road during the time of the assault,” Tufano said in a statement. “Once officers cleared the scene on Randolph Road they responded to 316 Rensselaer Avenue and arrested the individual involved in the assault.”
Wilhelmson released on bail
Wilhelmson, of Holly Springs, N.C., has been charged with misdemeanor simple assault and communicating threats. As of Monday morning, he was still being held in Mecklenburg County Jail on $3,000 bond, according to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Department inmate inquiry and according to family acquaintance Hammond, though The Charlotte Observer reported Sunday that Wilhelmson had been released Sunday after posting bail. Hammond said Wilhelmson’s family is “trying to teach him a lesson.”
Wilhelmson has not been charged with a hate crime. North Carolina law does not recognize hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Wilhelmson has three prior arrests, according to Wake County, N.C., arrest records. In February 2015, he was charged with a hit and run with property damage. In November 2012, he was charged with assault. In December 2010, he was charged with a DWI.
This is a developing story. Stay tuned for more updates.