Monday, September 22, 2014

Attorney: Suspects in gay couple attack may claim self-defense

Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2014

Attorneys representing suspects involved in a Sept. 11 assault on a gay couple in Center City Philadelphia are looking into whether it was a case of self-defense, according to a Bucks County lawyer who is representing one of the dozen suspects.
“That scenario is being intensely explored,” Newtown attorney Louis Busico said Thursday morning adding, “The scenario is dramatically opposed and substantially different than the media accounts to date.”
While Busico declined to elaborate, some have claimed to the media that one of the alleged victims initiated the assault after random contact with a woman who was with a crowd of 12 to 15 people at the time.
Video surveillance of potential suspects
A friend of the couple told various news outlets Wednesday that authorities warned them to expect the self-defense angle to emerge in the coming days.
Philadelphia Lt. John Stanford said that investigators are continuing to interview a number of people regarding the incident. He added that individuals in the police video as well as civilian witnesses have come forward.
“(Police) are also trying to determine if there is any additional video confirming or contradicting,” Stanford said. “It’s our responsibility to bring those in who are responsible for committing a crime, but it’s also our responsibility to thoroughly investigate to make sure the right person or persons are charged.”
Busico declined to identify his client, who has yet to meet with investigators. Philadelphia police have not identified any of the suspects who, Busico believes, were mostly in their mid-20s.
He said at least six individuals have retained lawyers, but it’s unclear how many have spoken to police at this point. Busico said that not all alleged assailants are male.
“Maybe rather than giving in to the hysteria of the moment and pointing accusatory fingers at either side, everyone would be better served by letting the investigation take its course,” Busico added.
On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia issued a statement condemning the attack on behalf of Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster. The statement said that some of the school’s former students were allegedly involved in the incident. An archdiocesan spokesman also confirmed that the school had terminated a contract with an unidentified assistant basketball coach at Wood, and said the person would be barred from coaching at any archdiocesan school.
On Thursday, the archdiocese revised its statement to say that the coach — facing termination because of the incident — had agreed to resign.
The statement said the school community wanted to make it “emphatically clear that the school does not, under any circumstances, tolerate or condone the violent and hateful behavior displayed by those who took part in this senseless attack.”
In an accompanying statement, also released Thursday, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said, “Violence against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable and alien to what it means to be a Christian.
“A key part of a Catholic education is forming students to respect the dignity of every human person whether we agree with them or not,” Chaput said. “What students do with that formation when they enter the adult world determines their own maturity and dignity, or their lack of it.”
Busico, who declined to say if his client has a connection to Wood, said on the evening of the attack his client was among a group of people enjoying a dinner at La Viola, an Italian restaurant near where the assaults took place at 16th and Chancellor streets. He pointed out that surveillance video shows it appears that none of the group were behaving in a rowdy or intoxicated manner.
“It doesn’t appear anyone was seeking an altercation,” Busico said.
A security video of the group walking in the city just prior to the attack was posted by police Tuesday, and the social media community went to work. Within hours, a Twitter user posted a photo of the men and women gathered at a restaurant believed to be La Viola the night of the attack.
Social media users soon figured out the name of the restaurant they dined at and used Facebook to find people who had checked in there. From there, social media users started coming up with the names of those pictured.
Philadelphia police said the gay couple, in their late 20s, were held down, punched and beaten after they bumped into a group of about a dozen people on the street Thursday night, just blocks from a part of town known as “the Gayborhood.” Members of the group shouted slurs as the men were pummeled, police added.
One man was left with a broken eye socket and a wired jaw, while his partner had bruises and a black eye.
State Rep. Brian Sims, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker and a Democrat from Philadelphia, said the local gay community is outraged over the case.
He hopes it will add to the growing — if ignoble — list of cases he can cite in a push to include sexual orientation in the state’s hate crime laws. Currently, it is not, although gays won the right to marry this year after a federal judge struck down the state ban.
“If we can accept as a society that two people who love each other should be able to get married, maybe that will help the understanding that perhaps they shouldn’t have to fear being fired, or fear for their safety in their hometown,” Sims said.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181;email: jciavaglia@calkins.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia



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