Baltimore police have charged a man in the Christmas Day beating of Kenni Shaw, though it was not announced for several days as the city's gay community remained on edge amid fears of violence.
Shaw says he was attacked because he is gay, though police have not suggested a motive in the case. The beating, illustrated by images taken in the hospital of his badly swollen face, helped spur a rally Saturday in East Baltimore that included Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts.
Records show Marcus Evans, 26, was picked up two days before the rally on a warrant filed Dec. 29. When asked about the case the day of the rally, police said it remained under investigation.
Evans is charged with first- and second-degree assault and was released on $100,000 bond the day he was arrested.
Shaw said he was informed of the arrest last week but was asked to keep it confidential. He said he is satisfied with the way police have handled the investigation but will keep pushing for the case to be charged as a hate crime.
"A lot of people say, 'Well, there wasn't no words exchanged, so it can't be labeled as a hate crime,'" Shaw said. "The way I dress and look, I live a different lifestyle and I was targeted as 'weak.' Just because there was no words exchanged doesn't mean there was just an assault."
Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said, "There has to be a certain burden of proof to justify it as a hate crime," and that the decision not to charge as such was made in consultation with the state's attorney's office.
Guglielmi said police did not disclose the arrest because they were still completing their investigation. Shaw said he was attacked by five people, and police said suspects could still be at large.
Separately, police say that another reported attack on a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — widely circulated on social media Tuesday — had been determined to be unfounded.
The chilling message, said to have been posted to the victim's Facebook page by attackers who beat him and stole his phone, read: "Let this be a lesson to you ... we takin y'all out one by one. I hope yall can find [him] before he die."
By midday, alarming messages were circulating that gay people in Baltimore were being targeted.
"This is real. Don't assume you are safe in Mt. Vernon," one widely shared message read. "Travel in groups. Walk your friend to the bus. Consider Mace if you know how to use it."
Sgt. Eric Kowalczyk, the Police Department's liaison to the LGBT community, confirmed that police received a report of a robbery and assault at North Avenue and St. Paul Street early Tuesday. The alleged victim had "superficial lacerations" to his face, but Kowalczyk said an investigation "revealed those injuries were not a result of any criminal act."
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"After formal interviews with the victim and a thorough review of the facts and evidence of the case, the BPD has determined that this is not a criminal or police matter, and there is no public safety threat to the Mount Vernon community," Kowalczyk said.
Carrie Evans, director of Equality Maryland, said police contacted her Tuesday to inform her of the incident and tell her that they were investigating. She said her group waited to see what they found before posting anything to their own social media sites.
"That's the age we're living in. There are instantaneous things on social media that may or may not be true, and the police needed time," Evans said. "We were satisfied that police were doing their investigation and were going to wait until they had additional information."
After the incident involving Shaw, Batts pledged to form an advisory group to meet monthly to work with gay and transgender people, and Evans said police have had increased contact with her organization since then.
"How the community and Police Department responded to the attack on Kenni Shaw was very encouraging," she said. "We can't think we've reached a point in society where people aren't attacked because of their race or sexual orientation or religion. It happens, and we have to be cautious and vigilant."