September 4, 2012 at 10:54 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Mystery surrounds DOJ’s second gay hate crime case
Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan, gay news, Washington Blade

Witnesses failed to help as Everett Dwayne Avery shouted anti-gay epithets while attacking Justin Alesna as they waited in line at a Detroit gas station. Avery has plead guilty to a Federal hate crime. (photo by Carol Spears via Wikimedia)

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Aug. 29 that a 36-year-old Michigan man pleaded guilty in court in Detroit to a federal hate crime in connection with an assault against a man he believed to be gay in March 2011.

But the DOJ and Detroit police have yet to publicly disclose whether local authorities investigated the case between the time the attack took place on March 7, 2011 and the time federal officials charged the perpetrator with a hate crime on Aug. 10, 2012.

The DOJ announcement says Everett Dwayne Avery admitted he struck the victim in the face while the two were customers in a gas station convenience store in Detroit, causing the victim to suffer a fractured eye socket and other facial injuries. Documents filed by prosecutors in federal court say Avery shouted anti-gay names at the victim during the assault.

The case represents the second time federal authorities have invoked the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to prosecute someone for an anti-gay hate crime. Congress passed and President Obama signed the measure into law in 2009.

The act authorizes federal authorities to prosecute hate crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity if local authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute such a case or if local officials invite federal prosecutors to become involved in the case.

“Hate-fueled incidents have no place in a civilized society,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to using all the tools in our law enforcement arsenal, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Have Crimes Prevention Act, to prosecute acts of violence motivated by hate.”

Spokespersons for the DOJ, the FBI, which investigated the case, and the Detroit police department said they could not immediately determine whether Avery had been apprehended and prosecuted by the police before federal officials filed the hate crime charge against him on Aug. 10.

The DOJ also did not say why it chose not to disclose the victim’s name. The victim, Justin Alesna, 23, posted a YouTube video describing the anti-gay attack less than two weeks after it happened. More than 3,400 people have viewed the video since its posting, according to YouTube.

Alesna’s assertion in the video that the convenience store clerk and at least two customers in the store refused to come to his aid and the clerk refused to call police were widely reported by news media outlets in Detroit, including the local CBS affiliate.

DOJ spokesperson Mitchell Rivard said the FBI and federal prosecutors became involved in the case after being contacted by the statewide LGBT organization Equality Michigan. Rivard said local law enforcement officials supported the federal involvement because Michigan’s hate crimes law doesn’t cover hate based on someone’s sexual orientation.

Rivard said he couldn’t immediately determine whether local police and prosecutors attempted to charge Avery with a felony-related assault even though the state lacks a hate crimes law that covers anti-gay hate crimes. A Detroit police spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to queries from the Blade to determine whether police opened an investigation into the case.

Under the federal hate crimes law, Avery faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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