Military homophobia? Savannah beating prompts hate crime investigation

“We hope to show in a powerful and vivid way to the community of Savannah and more importantly the leadership at all levels that GLBT community has had enough — enough violence, enough attacks,” Clark said.

The alleged victim, Kieran Daly, 26, did not attend the June 20 rally, however. He could not be reached for comment.

“As we can imagine this has been extremely traumatic event. He is still recovering and is spending time with his family,” said Cody Patterson, a rally organizer and Daly’s friend.

Clark added the rally was not just about the alleged attack on Daly but also other attacks against gay people, including those that have gone unreported.

“This is not only about Mr. Daly. This has been going on for decades. We don’t know how many victims there are,” he said.

“We are demanding justice, condemnation of the violence and calling for the leadership of this city to call for swift, appropriate justice … We are going to see justice done come hell or high water,” Clark said.

Attacked because of a wink?

According to a Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department report, Daly was allegedly attacked at about 3:45 a.m. on June 12. Charged with misdemeanor battery in the beating were two U.S. Marines — Christopher Stanzel, 23, and Keil Cronauer, 22.

Daly’s friend, Alison Brennan, told police “they were all eating pizza [in Johnson Square] and were joking around with the two subjects when Mr. Cronauer got upset because he found out Mr. Daly was a homosexual. She continued to state that she was trying to get Mr. Daly to walk away because she heard Mr. Cronauer tell him ‘did you just wink at me!’

“At which point she stated Mr. Stanzel walked behind Mr. Daly and when she turned her attention to them Mr. Daly was on the ground unconscious. She immediately ran to him and in passing asked Mr. Stanzel, ‘did you just hit him?’ Mr. Stanzel’s response was ‘No’ and took off running with Mr. Cronauer heading west on Congress St.

“She then went to the aid of Mr. Daly and she stated he did not have a pulse at first. She then gave him some ‘chest rubs’ and all Mr. Daly did was lift his eyebrows but did not wake up.”

Police found the two suspects in a fenced, empty lot after they were seen running “full sprint” from where Daly was injured. They told police they were waiting for friends.

“Mr. Cronauer stated that they were being harassed by a white homosexual male earlier in the evening and just wanted to get away and meet their friend on Bay St. Mr. Stanzel stated that he was going to meet a friend on River St.,” according to the police report.

They were turned over to military police.

Further reports that Daly suffered a seizure and required CPR caused an uproar among LGBT people in Georgia and nationwide, who demanded police charge the Marines with a felony.

The incident also prompted Georgia Equality to ask the Department of Justice and the FBI to intervene to investigate whether or not the incident is a federal hate crime.

“I’m very concerned this happened in the first place. But these misdemeanor charges are outrageous,” said Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham. “And then to turn [the Marines] over to the military police is a miscarriage of justice.”

FBI spokesperson Steve Emmett could only say an investigation is underway.

“A preliminary investigation was opened but I can’t give an update,” he said this week.

Christopher Charles Stanzel accused of beating a gay man
Christopher Charles StanzelA marine accused of beating a gay man in Savannah
Keil Joseph Cronauer

Police unresponsive?

Gena Moore, spokesperson for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, said her department has recorded three gay-related beatings in the city in the past five years.

“That is the lowest statistic of any crime in Savannah,” she said. “We treat everyone equally, regardless of their sexual preference.”

Moore added the police department intends to wrap its investigation into Daly’s case possibly by the end of this week.

Clark’s accusation that local police do not support the LGBT community in cases of alleged anti-gay violence is not true, according to other local gay activists. In a letter to the Savannah Morning News, Robert Dunn, co-chair of Stand Out Youth Savannah, and Christina Focht, executive director of Savannah Pride, defended police actions in the Daly case.

The letter noted the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police appointed a gay liaison officer and launched the Savannah Chatham Police & Gay Community Collaborative in 2007.

“They have definitely not turned a blind eye,” the letter argued.

The LGBT liaison was appointed with help from Clark and Georgia Equality after Travis McClain, a young gay man, was attacked and called “faggot” in a parking lot during the city’s popular St. Patrick’s Day celebration in 2007.

Last week, Clark and Georgia Equality publicized a second alleged gay bashing this year.

The victim, John Takats, came forward through a statement from Georgia Equality saying he was attacked in February, possibly by one of the same Marines that attacked Daly. He said he tried to file a report with police at the time but was discouraged from doing so.

At the June 20 rally, Takats said police did not respond to his desire to report the incident and suggested he instigated the beating.

“I was told, quote, ‘This kind of stuff happens in Savannah. You are gay and need to tone it down.’ They claimed I must have made them uncomfortable,” he said. “I walked away discouraged, scared and alone. I’m asking you to all come together and fight for what is right.”

Moore said Takats was expected to meet with the LGBT liaison, Terry Walden, this week to discuss the incident.

Walden also asked the public to wait until all the information is released before calling what happened to Daly a “hate crime.”

“The information coming out now is there may have been more to it” than what the alleged victim originally reported and that he may not have tried to walk away as he told police initially, she said.

“Whatever happened, that does not give anyone the right to raise their hand and hit someone in violence,” Walden said.

“But we have to investigate this to the fullest extent we can and then turn the information over to the D.A. — whether it falls under a hate crime is for him to decide,” she said.

Conflicting stories

Moore, the police spokesperson, said the Marines were charged with a misdemeanor based on Daly’s injuries. Daly was admitted to the hospital June 12 and released the next day. He gave local media interviews June 14.

Moore said the department has been trying to get Daly to turn over his medical records for more than a week so they can see exactly what injuries he sustained. Daly was supposed to come in for a police interview on June 21 but he did not do so, Moore said.

“His lawyer said the investigators needed to come to them. The meeting didn’t take place. He said he turned his medical records over to the D.A.,” Moore said.

A spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Chisolm confirmed June 22 that Daly did turn over his medical records to an assistant D.A. The D.A.’s office will now turn the medical records over to the police, she said.

While LGBT activists may want more severe charges to be filed against the two Marines, the investigation so far does not warrant doing so, Moore said.

For an aggravated assault charge, there has to be a weapon used. Right now, all police know is Daly suffered a concussion, she said.

“We’ve gone above and beyond the call and if the medical records show he suffered more severe injuries, we will make sure the charges are elevated,” Moore said. “But we have to go forward based on facts.”

Brennan, Daly’s friend and a witness, refused a second interview requested by police, Moore added. The reason for additional interviews is because of conflicting accounts as to what happened.

On June 14, the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina, where Stanzel and Cronauer are stationed, issued a statement saying the men were restricted to the base during the investigations.

“We have found through our preliminary internal investigation that the Marines in question stated there were unwanted verbal advances and a threat was communicated by a member of the other party,” said Col. David Robinson in the statement.

“While this might not justify the actions of the Marine punching the individual in the face, there is certainly more than one side of the story that is currently being reported.”

Robinson added the Marine Corps “does not tolerate discrimination or violence of any kind” and the two men will be punished “to the fullest extent” if any laws were broken.

On June 20, the day of the rally, the Savannah Morning News reported Daly got into a fight with a truck driver in a road rage incident Jan. 19 and allegedly used a racial slur against the truck driver. Daly denied he used any slurs in a prepared statement to the newspaper.

Daly was charged with battery, affray and reckless driving, but the charges were dismissed after he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. The truck driver also had his charges dropped in exchange for a guilty plea on disorderly conduct.

Clark and Patterson said they knew about the incident and Daly told them the accusation was false. Clark further stated it was one more way for police to “blame the victim.”

City Alderman Jeff Felser, who is gay, spoke at the rally, saying Mayor Otis S. Johnson was out of town but sent his support of the “GLBT community, the diversity of Savannah and the need for a state hate crimes law.”

Felser also discussed Daly’s alleged slur.

“As an attorney, I don’t like it when you have a rapist who goes on trial and the victim then becomes the focus of their past. Whatever their past may be it does not mean the present act was right. Just walk away,” he said. “Kieran is not on trial, OK? The investigation is not about Kieran. Let justice and the facts prevail.”

Homophobia & ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The day before the Savannah rally, Danny Ingram of Atlanta, national president for American Veterans for Equal Rights, attended the first Pride festival in Augusta, Ga.

There he met a young, gay military service member. The soldier told Ingram, who has lobbied for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he did not want to see the repeal go through.

That surprised Ingram.

The service member had seen the movie “Soldier’s Girl” about the brutal murder of Pfc. Barry Winchell in 1999.

“And that movie scared him,” Ingram said.

A fellow soldier beat Winchell in the head with a baseball bat after a day of drinking over the Fourth of July weekend in Nashville. Other soldiers spread rumors that Winchell was gay after discovering he was dating a transgender woman, Calpernia Addams.

The soldier who beat Winchell to death, Calvin Glover, is serving life in prison. The murder raised serious doubts about the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and President Clinton, who signed the bill into law, ordered a review of its implementation.

Some 11 years after Winchell’s murder, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is now in sight: The U.S. House voted last month to repeal the policy as part of the massive Department of Defense authorization bill, and the Senate may begin debating DADT later this month or in July, according to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which lobbies for repeal.

As what happened in Savannah made its way through the national news and blogosphere, some questioned whether an incident like the alleged attack means the military isn’t ready for a repeal of DADT.

“Obviously, an investigation is ongoing, and no one’s guilty yet,” wrote Adam Weinstein for a Mother Jones blog on June 13.

“But if service members on liberty can’t hold their liquor or their emotions — and regardless of what happened, that much seems clear here — there’s a long way to go before the military will be able to successfully integrate gays and lesbians in the military ranks,” Weinstein wrote.

Ingram said he doesn’t think the high-profile debate over repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is fueling homophobia in the military, but noted Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway is an outspoken opponent of repeal.

“I would not ask our Marines to live with someone who is homosexual if we can possibly avoid it,” Conway told in March. “And to me that means we have to build BEQs (bachelor enlisted quarters) and have single rooms.”

But SLDN and Ingram stress that those against repealing the ban, like Conway, are of an older generation.

“The younger generation of service members largely doesn’t care about whether their comrades are gay or lesbian, and they understand that sexual orientation has nothing to do with completing the mission,” said Paul DeMiglio, senior communications manager for SLDN.

SLDN also reports that a 2006 Zogby International poll showed 73 percent of military personnel are comfortable serving with gays.

Should “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed, policies would be required to protect openly gay service members from harassment and discrimination, DeMiglio said.

“Policies and regulations to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly would need to be written and put in place,” he said. “SLDN will also encourage the president to issue an executive order protecting service members from discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.”


Top photo: More than 100 people rallied in Savannah on June 20 in the wake of an alleged beating of a gay man by two Marines the previous weekend. (by Dyana Bagby)