Elkhart police investigate a possible hate crime

ELKHART, Ind. -– Early Saturday morning the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department responded to a fight in the parking lot at Lakeshore Grill on State Road 19.

Deputies arrived just before 2 a.m., by then many witnesses had left the scene and the victim, a 46-year-old man had been transported to Elkhart General Hospital for injuries to his face.

The victim, in town from Florida told police he was beaten for no reason except his sexual orientation.

That caught deputies by surprise, “I really don’t see a lot of these that come through, it kind of stand out a little bit.”

Captain James Bradberry with the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department said they are now investigating a hate crime against gays.

“That’s one of the allegations that were made in this situation so, we’ll look into that and that would fall under the hate crime statute of Indiana,” Bradberry said.

Police and witnesses seem to know what happened, but no one is sure why.

ABC57 News spoke with the bartender who worked at Lakeshore Grill Friday night and into Saturday morning; he said the altercation began inside the bar, in the men’s bathroom.

The bartender, who did not want to release his name, said two men were involved in the incident in the restroom, when other patrons got the attention of two bouncers working the door.

According to the bartender, bouncers tried to separate the two, but it only escalated, and a brawl spilled out into the parking lot in front of the bar.

The bartender who witnessed most of the fight said he didn’t think this was a hate crime, “A lot of stuff was said outside," he said. "I think people were intoxicated and maybe feelings got hurt, and now someone is calling it a hate crime.”

Bradberry said that officers need to talk to a lot more witnesses before they can determine if this was just a drunken bar fight, or in fact a hate crime.

The FBI defines a hate crime as, "A criminal offense committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against the victim's race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin, or sexual orientation."

But even if the victim was targeted and beaten because of his sexual orientation, Indiana does not have any laws that recognize or penalize hate crimes.

Indiana is one of just 10 states without statutory provision to address hate crimes, which means police cannot arrest or charge anyone for a hate crime.

“If we have enough evidence information obviously we’ll forward that information to the prosecutor to review for charges of battery,” Bradberry said.

The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department is still investigating and looking for suspects in this case for committing battery against the victim.

If it is ruled a hate crime, the department will send the information on to the FBI for data collection, but that is it.

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