THE VIOLENT ASSAULTS OF THREE GAY MEN IN West Hollywood is a wake-up call for the diverse city known for its strong lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered LGBT identity. Hundreds of angry residents marched last week in defiance of the brutal attacks, demanding "no more hate crimes" and "not in our community." The attacks have also brought criticism on the West Hollywood Sheriff's station, which some believe took too long to classify the attacks as hate crimes, a crucial step in gathering the evidence needed to establish motive in these sometimes hard-to-prove cases.
Just before midnight on September 1, voice-over actor Trev Broudy, 33, was standing outside his apartment on the corner of Cynthia Street and Hilldale Avenue saying goodbye to a male friend, Edward Lett, after a long dinner. As the two embraced, a red or brown late-1980s Nissan Sentra with three men drove by. Within moments two of the men jumped out of the car and knocked Broudy unconscious, smashing the back of his head with a baseball bat and a metal pipe. Broudy's friend escaped serious injury only because he was able to get away in his car. ä
"They are still trying to figure out how to fit hate crimes into their traditional program," said an anonymous source close to the Sheriff's investigation. "There are so many potential targets [in West Hollywood]. They need to be right on top of it."
An hour later, another man walking up Hilldale was attacked by men fitting the same description as Broudy's attackers -- three black men in a red or brown Nissan wielding bats and pipes. He escaped with just bruises to his back and head by running down Hilldale to Santa Monica Boulevard.
West Hollywood residents are asking each other how such a thing can happen here, supposedly the one place in Los Angeles County where gay men can hug each other on the street without fearing any repercussions. Attacks like this are not unheard of in West Hollywood, but possible hate crimes are more readily reported elsewhere in the city. "Most of our recent hate crimes have all been on the east end of town against the transgender community," explained Deputy Don Mueller, the LGBT community liaison for the West Hollywood Sheriff's Station. "To have a violent crime on the west side of town is extremely rare." Hilldale and Cynthia, a quiet corner with expensive apartments and condos, is just blocks from the Beverly Hills border.
According to a Sheriff's Department bulletin, the crime is being investigated as an assault with a deadly weapon and as a potential hate crime and armed robbery. Making the charge of hate crime stick won't be easy. "The difficult part on our end is we have to be able to prove what the suspect's motivation is," Mueller said. Since the attackers did not say anything to the victims, it makes it harder to prove their primary motivation was their victims' perceived sexual orientation. At this point, however, the department says robbery does not appear to be the prime motive.
Days after the attacks, the department stressed that it understood the case from the start. "The possibility of it being a hate crime was there from the very moment we were on the scene," Captain Lynda Castro, commanding officer at the West Hollywood Sheriff's Station, said at a September 5 news conference. A call two days before to the West Hollywood station, however, revealed some confusion. A lieutenant said the case was being examined as a robbery, and that a hate-crime investigation was not under way. Both Mueller and Castro said the officer spoke without full knowledge of the investigation.
Some officials at West Hollywood City Hall aren't buying it. "This thing was classified as a robbery until Monday afternoon," said a City Hall insider who asked not to be identified.
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Criticism about how long it took to interview people in the neighborhood has also been lodged against Sheriff's deputies. According to the Sheriff's station, deputies didn't go door to door until the afternoon of Tuesday, September 3, more than 24 hours after the attacks. Some Cynthia Street residents called the Sheriff's station wondering why they had to hear about the assaults on television. Others pointed out one of the buildings close to the first attack is a hotel -- what about guests who were staying for the long Labor Day weekend? By Tuesday, it was likely that people who may have heard or seen something had left. "When you have a serious assault, you can't always go out asking in the neighborhood if you don't have a fairly clear idea of all of the information," responded Castro. "What we needed to do was have the opportunity to conduct some additional interviews, get some descriptions, so as we contact people, we sound like we know what we're talking about."
City Manager Paul Arevalo is one of many city officials trying to figure out if West Hollywood has done everything it can to calm the community and solve the crime. "You always want to know if we could do better," he said. "People were frustrated City Hall didn't communicate better."
Arevalo sidestepped any criticism of the Sheriff's Department when it came to classifying the crime and notifying City Hall. "What I don't want to do at this stage is spend time and money on issues that may or may not exist," he said. "This community, they deserve the best service possible -- a 'B' is not good enough. I want 'A+' service."
It's painfully obvious to Arevalo and most everyone else that West Hollywood should be the last place to mishandle a hate crime.