Despite the denials of two men charged in the incident, Southeastern District officers said last night they still believe anti-gay violence was the root cause of an attack on a teen-age boy near Patterson Park late Wednesday.
"Until someone gives us a different reason," said one officer involved in the case, "I'm going to believe that's what this was about."
The 17-year-old victim has told police that he is not homosexual. But investigating officers believe he was attacked because he was standing in the 400 block of S. Patterson Park Ave., an area well-known for male teen-age prostitution.
Eight men armed with baseball bats jumped from a purple and black Toyota pickup, shouted "we're going to [beat] you up, faggot," and attacked the victim, who told officers that he had gone to Patterson Park Avenue to visit a female friend who lives there.
The assailants then fled in the truck and were later seen further east, where witnesses saw them throw a baseball bat from the vehicle in the first block of S. Decker Ave. The witnesses also saw three menjump from the truck.
Police later spotted the truck on South Oldham Street, stopped it and arrested four occupants. A bat was recovered from the truck.
In addition to the "faggot" remark made to the victim, police believe the assault to have been anti-gay in nature because of an earlier report from another young man, who told an officer he had been chased near the park by a group of young white men armed with baseball bats.
That report came in less than half an hour before the 17-year-old victim was beaten a few blocks away. The earlier report suggests that the attack may have occurred not over some personal dispute, but because the group was chasing male teen-agers chosen at random, officers said.
Police said the victim sustained multiple facial injuries in the attack, which happened about 10 p.m., but he refused medical treatment.
Charged with aggravated assault and released by a court commissioner yesterday morning were James Tyler III, 18, of the 800 block of North Avondale Road; Michael Hajek, 19, of the 1900 block of Codd Ave.; and Robert Flage, 18, of the 7900 block of Trappe Road.
A 17-year-old defendant, who was not identified because he is ajuvenile, was released to his parents.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr. Flage denied that the incident occurred because of any anti-gay sentiments. He said it was simply a one-on-one fight between the victim and another young man that he identified only as "Angelo."
"It happened because someone looked at someone the wrong way and sparks flew," Mr. Flage said, adding that the victim was struck only with fists. He said "a show of force" was made using the bats, but "they weren't necessary."
Mr. Flage denied participating in the assault.
Another defendant, Mr. Tyler, also denied in a TV interview that the incident was an anti-gay attack. However, Southeastern District officers said it was similar to other recent violence against gays in the area.
Earlier this year, Terry A. Ostrowski, 18, and Anthony Fields, 16, were convicted of manslaughter for beating a homosexual man to death in Patterson Park last summer. The victim, James Charles Turch, was beaten with a 4-foot wooden stake.