December 13, 2019 at 10:40 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Dallas men plead guilty to using Grindr to target gay men for hate crimes
From left, Pablo Ceniceros-Deleon and Daryl Henry pleaded guilty to using Grindr rto commit hate crimes against gay men. (Photos courtesy of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department)

Two men in Dallas have pled guilty to a hate crime and other charges for using Grindr to commit violence against gay men and rob them by forcing them at gunpoint to withdraw money at ATMs, the U.S. Justice Department announced Friday.

Daryl Henry, 24, pleaded guilty to one count of committing a hate crime under the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and one count of conspiracy to commit hate crimes, kidnapping and carjacking. 

Pablo Ceniceros-Deleon, 19, pleaded guilty to one count of committing a hate crime under the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, one count of carjacking and one count of using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division, whose confirmation was vigorously opposed by LGBTQ and civil rights groups, said in a statement “prosecuting those who commit such monstrous acts because of victims’ sexual orientation is a priority of the Department of Justice.”

“Kidnappings, carjackings, thefts, sexual assaults, and armed, violent attacks against innocent people are heinous crimes, and when perpetrators commit those crimes against victims because of their sexual orientation, the U.S. Department of Justice will continue zealously to seek justice for the victims and to punish the perpetrators to the full extent of the law,” Dreiband said.

U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox of the Northern District of Texas confirmed in a statement Grindr was the tool Henry and Ceniceros-Deleon used to target gay men to commit hate crimes.

“These defendants used Grindr to single out their victim based on sexual orientation – something the Northern District of Texas simply will not tolerate,” Cox said. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time a dating app user has fallen victim to a violent crime. I’m urging the public to be vigilant about the dangers lurking online.”

According to the Justice Department, both Henry and Ceniceros-Deleon admitted they used Grindr to lure gay men to a vacant apartment — as well as other areas in and around Dallas — for robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, and hate crimes. 

Henry confessed he and others held the victims against their will in the vacant apartment; Ceniceros-Deleon confessed he and others traveled to local ATMs to withdraw cash from the victims’ account; and both Henry and Ceniceros-Deleon admitted they subjected their victims to taunts based upon their perceived sexual orientation, according to the Justice Department. 

Additionally, Ceniceros-Deleon admitted to being the gunman in a Dec. 7, 2017, carjacking where he and others used Grindr to lure a man to a location and then forced the man, at gunpoint, to drive the conspirators to local ATMs to withdraw cash from the man’s account.

According to a January 2019 report in the Dallas Morning News, the string of violent robberies and hate crimes targeting gay men in Dallas came to an end after one of their victims managed to get away from his kidnappers and call 911.

When Dallas police showed up at a vacant apartment where that shopper had been held, they found four of the victims lying face down in an empty bedroom, the Dallas Morning News reported.

One victim was smeared with feces and urinated on, and another was sexually assaulted with an object, according to the Dallas Morning News.

At least four men were suspected in the crime spree. In March 2019, Michael Atkinson had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy and kidnapping charges in connection this case. Another suspect was Daniel Jenkins, 19. It wasn’t immediately clear what the state of the charges were against him.

From left, Daniel Jenkins and Michael Atkinson (Photos courtesy of Dallas County Sheriff’s Department)

Sentencing for Atkinson is set for February 2020 and sentencing for Ceniceros-Deleon is set for April 1, 2020, but the court has not set a sentencing hearing for Henry, according to the Justice Department.

FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said in a statement the victims in this case were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation.

“One of the FBI’s top priorities is to defend the civil rights of the communities we serve.,” DeSarno said. “We actively work with our law enforcement partners to investigate hate crimes and achieve justice for the victims impacted by these violent crimes.”

The FBI’s Dallas Field Office conducted the federal investigation; a separate criminal investigation is being conducted by the Dallas Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Dana of the Northern District of Texas along with Special Litigation Counsel Rose Gibson and Trial Attorney Kathryn Gilbert of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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