A Gay-Bashing in the East Sixth 'Dead Zone'

A brawl outside Emo's raises questions about police protection east of Red River

Just after 2am on May 29, Jack Culverhouse was standing outside Emo's on East Sixth Street talking with a group of friends, waiting for another friend who had just played a gig inside to load her equipment into her car. Three men walked by – athletic, clean-cut, in their mid-20s, Culverhouse and others say – one of them talking on a cell phone. As they passed the group, Cell Phone Man leaned over and reached under the skirt of one of Culverhouse's friends, grabbing her. "He was laughing and being cheeky," as he walked away, telling whoever was on the other end of the phone line that he'd "just got up this girl's skirt," Culverhouse said.

But the girl screamed and Cell Phone Man turned back toward her as if, Culverhouse said, he might hit her. Culverhouse stepped between the two to stop the advance. "He still had his phone in his right hand and with his left he just sucker punches me and runs off," Culverhouse said. "I went from shocked to immediately pissed off." Culverhouse followed the man, who'd caught up with his friends. "I just wanted him to look at me – I was trying to figure out why he hit me." The man's friend turned to face Culverhouse and stopped short, staring. "You fucking dyke," Culverhouse recalled him saying. "Are you a man? Are you a woman? I don't know if I should hit you or not."

Culverhouse sighed; it certainly wasn't the first time that had happened. Culverhouse is transgendered – born female but identifying as male and maintaining a male identity. "I didn't think he was going to hit me," he said. "I think, 'He's just going to have to say "dyke" 10 more times.'" Emo's bouncer Lane Anton saw what was happening and approached Culverhouse. "I was trying to pull [Culverhouse] back into the club," he said. But the man ran toward them and punched Anton, knocking him to the pavement, before turning to Culverhouse. "He grabbed me, punched me, and took me down on the pavement," Culverhouse recalled. His head cracked into the pavement, and the second man, "held me down by my hair, [his] other hand on my back, while [Cell Phone Man] kicked me in the head and on my side."

In short, the altercation triggered by the man's initial assault had turned into a melee, a chaotic brawl that raises new questions about how – and where – Austin police patrol downtown's entertainment district.

According to Anton, several Emo's employees joined the group of women and other onlookers, trying – without success – to break up the fight, which was growing in intensity and spilling into the roadway. Several long minutes into the brawl, one of Culverhouse's friends spotted an APD officer standing nearby, watching, Culverhouse said. The friend ran over to the cop, imploring him to help. "You need to get over there," the friend allegedly said, but the officer wouldn't intervene. "What do you want me to do, go get my ass kicked?" he says the cop asked.

"Well, you could at least call some fucking back-up," Culverhouse's friend said before returning to try to help break up the fight. The fight continued until someone yelled out that they'd called the cops, Anton recalled, and Cell Phone Man and his friend ran off.

But the cops never came.

When it was all over, Anton had a cut over his eye that required stitches; another Emo's bouncer had broken a finger. Culverhouse had a black eye and cue ball-sized hematoma, bruised shoulders, legs, and stomach, a possible concussion – and a head full of psychological bruises. "I just wanted them to move on," Culverhouse said. "Maybe I didn't handle it the best way, but I had no clue it would switch like that, into a huge chaotic mess." What started out as an assault on a friend turned into "just another experience that comes right down to my being a dyke," Culverhouse said. "What is this hate? Where does it come from?"

Anton is sympathetic but isn't convinced the men were motivated by Culverhouse's gender identity. "They just wanted to fight," he said. Anton and others say that what was more disturbing about the incident was that there were no police around to break it up. "I don't know why the cops weren't there," he said, "but they should've been there." The fact that there weren't any cops around isn't all that surprising to Anton and others familiar with the neighborhood, who consider the stretch of East Sixth between Red River and I-35 a dead zone. "There's no real police presence east of Red River," Anton said, but "all sorts of stuff" happens on those last three blocks of the street – just a block south of APD HQ.

According to crime information available through the APD's online Crime Report Viewer (www.ci.austin.tx.us/police/crimeinformation), in the past 18 months – from Dec. 4, 2002, to June 4, 2004 – police reported 607 crimes within a 500-foot radius of the intersection of East Sixth and Red River (east from Neches to I-35, and from Fourth to Eighth). Several blocks west, in the heart of Sixth Street – where there are many more people and a much larger police presence – between Brazos and Neches – including the Trinity and Sixth intersection, which is a hub for police assigned to patrol the street – APD recorded 526 crimes during the same time period.

According to APD spokesman Kevin Buchman, the officers on Sixth Street patrol the entire area – including the so-called eastern dead zone. "Absolutely," he said. "When officers are on patrol, part of their responsibility is to patrol the entire entertainment district." They still have to prioritize the distribution of resources and manpower – including walking beat officers, bike and mounted patrol, and the additional units that patrol the area in marked cars – which is, in part, determined by "call volume," he said.

Buchman could not confirm or discount Culverhouse's story about the officer who failed to respond to requests for help on May 29 – "that is concerning to us as well," he said. He said that the department is looking into it, but suggested that in the heat of the moment Culverhouse's friends might have mistaken a security guard posted across the street at the Texas Lottery Commission for an APD officer. "We have nothing, no indication, that any [APD officer] was there."

According to dispatch records, police responded to the scene only after two separate 911 phone calls were made by callers reporting the disturbance – a situation in stark contrast to other recent high-profile incidents in the area (including the infamous Ozomatli bust and the street arrest of actor Jason Patric), where police were quick to respond to situations that, arguably, did not call for such heavy-handed intervention.

Anton said he never saw the police until after the fight was over and that although he was injured and bleeding, he was never asked for information about what happened. It wasn't until later that day that police talked to Culverhouse, after he called police to file a report. One patrol officer and one sergeant responded to the call "minutes after" it came in, but when they arrived at Emo's "they couldn't find anything," Buchman said. "Our goal is to curb [fights] and to defuse them" before they become violent. "And we rely heavily on the managers and bouncers [inside the clubs] to be our eyes and ears."

Others still say that the brawl is just another example of inconsistent policing in the entertainment district. If the fight outside Emo's had happened several blocks west, things would've been different, Anton said. "If it had been something over there, it would've been stopped a lot sooner, and people wouldn't have gotten hurt."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

hate crime, Austin Police Department, APD, Downtown Area Command, Lane Anton, Sixth Street, Entertainment District, Emo's, crime, Jack Culverhouse

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