S.C. gay man says bar beating was hate crime

Surveillance video casts doubt on victim's initial account

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Police in the Upstate of South Carolina are investigating a second assault and alleged hate crime following April’s reported beating in Rock Hill.

On Tuesday, 22-year-old Vonte Fuller told Spartanburg TV news station WSPA that a group of men assaulted him at Sidelines Sports and Spirits at 93 Kensington Drive at approximately 3 a.m. on Sunday, May 1. Fuller said the men poured a pitcher of beer on him and hit him in the head and face with several beer bottles. He told WSPA that the men shouted, “I hate you faggots and … you punks are sick. And all ya’ll going to die slow.”

Fuller says bar security simply cleared the bar and failed to call police. As he waited for an ambulance his attackers left. Fuller was taken to the hospital where he was treated for cuts to his face, head and arms. There, he says, a police officer failed to take a report. A report was finally filed when Fuller went to the police station with his family later that day.

WSPA reporter Graeme Moore asked Spartanburg police why no police report was taken while Fuller was at the hospital. Lt. Regina Nowak said the officer, who has not been identified, will be investigated by the department’s office of professional standards for a violation of department policy.

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“Bottom line: a report should have been taken,” Nowak said. “We have a duty to file that report, even if [the officers] don’t agree [that a report needs to be taken.]

Police have also released video of the incident. The clip contains no sound and shows a scuffle involving several people in the bar. Spartanburg Police Capt. Randy Hardy, who supervises the criminal investigations division, told GoUpstate.com that the video might throw Fuller’s account into doubt.

“He says they did this to him because he is gay. I don’t think the video shows that,” Hardy said. “But there may be somebody who was there who remembers the incident, who may be willing to come forward to give us additional information.”

Nowak told qnotes via phone Thursday afternoon that some details of Fuller’s original account don’t match video surveillance and later statements he made to police. In particular, Nowak said there are some instances where Fuller might have antagonized potential suspects in the bar. She also said Fuller admitted to police that he taunted one potential suspect after he says the man called him an anti-gay slur.

“I’m not saying he isn’t a victim; obviously he is a victim,” Nowak said, pointing to Fuller’s several serious injuries, “but we haven’t talked to the other parties and we haven’t gotten their side of the story. All we have is the victim’s account and video. We have a lot of stuff to follow-up on; some of the parties not being local complicates that.

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Nowak said police are attempting to work with Fuller to identify individuals in the video. Three potential suspects, whose names appear on the initial police report, live in nearby Gaffney. Nowak said a female friend gave those names to Fuller.

According to the police report, Fuller sustained a laceration to the head requiring four staples. Lacerations on his forearm required eight stitches. Fuller also received several cuts on his nose.

Though the department is not currently investigating the case as a hate crime, they do have the option of asking the FBI to participate, in which case federal hate crime charges could be pursued against any future suspects.

Elke Kennedy, mother of murdered, 2007 anti-gay hate crime victim Sean Kennedy, says more should be done to investigate Fuller’s assault.

“Local authorities are not investigating this case as a hate crime because we don’t have hate crimes in South Carolina,” she said in a statement on Thursday. “I call on the FBI and urge them to investigate this as a hate crime and to charge these men with a hate crime for this brutal crime, that was clearly the result of Vonte Fuller’s sexual orientation.”

The alleged hate crime against Fuller is the second such incident in recent weeks. In April, 19-year-old Joshua Esskew claimed a man at a Rock Hill gas station hit him in the back of the head with a glass bottle after calling him a gay slur. As many as eight other men joined in the attack that left Esskew unconscious and with cuts, scrapes and bleeding on the brain. Five men, including Esskew’s original attacker, have been arrested and charged with aggravated assault in connection with that case. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.