Bashing the Wrong Guy
Dewayne Friar is a tough, brawny cop who likes his coffee hot. But last week he was forced to drink the stuff lukewarm through a straw after a gay-bashing incident left him with a busted lip, some broken teeth, vertigo spells, and an assortment of other injuries.
What his assailants didn't know was that the man lying unconscious under their boot heels that night last month was an off-duty Austin police officer -- one of about 50 openly gay officers within the department, according to some estimates. Four men were arrested minutes after the beating; they were charged with aggravated assault and released on $20,000 bail apiece.
Friar said he and his domestic partner, Romer Galang, had gone to a car show that evening and were headed to Katz's Deli for a late dinner. With Galang at the wheel, Friar rode in the front passenger seat of an Isuzu Rodeo bearing a rainbow sticker on the license plate. They stopped at a stop sign at Fourth and Colorado in the Warehouse District -- home of trendy restaurants and gay clubs -- where two men stood in front of the car and blocked its passage. When Galang sounded the horn, some six to eight men rushed the vehicle, opened the passenger door and dragged Friar from the car.
"It all happened so quick," Friar recalled. "They had me on the ground kicking me and yelling, 'fucking faggot' -- at least that's what I was told." Friar lost consciousness somewhere between the first punch and after he hit the ground.
Assistant District Attorney Buddy Meyer said he would take the case to a grand jury once police have completed the investigation. He said a decision would be made then whether to prosecute the case as a hate crime, which could lead to enhanced penalties during the punishment phase of the trial.
Friar says he has no doubt that he was assaulted because of the gay-pride sticker on the back of the Isuzu, and hopes his alleged assailants are prosecuted under the state's hate crimes law, which until 2001 did not include sexual orientation in the statute. "I would want the same justice for anyone in this situation," said Friar, acknowledging that his position as a police officer has turned the incident into a high-profile case. Gay rights activists see this as an opportunity to shine a political spotlight on hate crimes, which they fear will escalate as conservatives press their anti-gay agenda. "My friends have told me, 'I'm sorry this happened, but I'm glad it's you,'" Friar said.
Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield praised Friar as "a stand-up guy. ... I absolutely admire his courage in standing up for his convictions." He said the department is open to diversity and that many officers bring their partners to social functions. He agreed that the bashing of a gay cop will help raise public awareness of hate crimes. "Those guys didn't know they were pulling a whole handful [of trouble] from the car that night," Sheffield said. "I'm sure there's some deep regrets, but there has to be some consequences for their conduct."