An alleged gay bashing at a popular Portland gay dance night in April 2009 finally got its day in court today.
Update 1/19: The jury found Blake McCune not guilty of intimidation, but guilty of interfering with a police report. /end update
The case became a major discussion point last spring, when it was brought up at a public forum as a key example of gay-bashing in Portland going unprosecuted. It's a bit of a he-said-she-said case and the conflicting stories make it difficult to pin down exactly what happened. But they both paint a tense portrait of group, and one person specifically, not willing to turn their cheek to the word "fag".
Both sides agree that on April 12th, 2009 a scuffle occurred outside Blow Pony, a queer dance night at Casey's bar on NW 6th and Couch, and the word "fag" was shouted. When Blow Pony organizer Airick Heater tried to call the police, a man named Blake McCune knocked the phone out of his hand.
The prosecution says the scuffle clearly amounted to gay bashing. The defense says it was some heated words that sparked an over-reaction from a gay man burning with anger about homophobia in Portland.
What's up for debate is whether McCune shouted at Heater and hit his phone specifically because he thought Heater was gay, or just because McCune was angry. McCune and two of his friends dismiss the prosecution's claim that McCune shouted terrible anti-gay slurs at the crowd and punched Heater in the face.
This is actually the second time around for the case. The DA admitted that it screwed up when Heater originally pressed charged in 2009, copping to a clerical error that accidentally mailed Heater's trial notices to Minnesota. McCune is currently facing charges of intimidation based on sexual orientation and interfering with a police report.
After hearing testimony from both sides all day, the jury is deliberating on the case now. I'll update when they make a decision tomorrow morning.
On the one side is Heater, a well-known and outspoken activist in Portland's queer community. As an organizer and DJ for Blowpony, Heater stands out with his bright red hair and knuckle tattoos. In his opening statement to the jury today, defense attorney Troy Pickard described Heater as a "man who felt besieged by anti-gay sentiment from all sides in Portland."
On the other is McCune, a 23-year-old from Vancouver who admits that he seems physically intimidating, at a burly 6'5 ("I look like a big football player. I look like I'm joining the army," he told me in an interview) and admits that, in the heat of the moment, he got angry and called Heater a fag, but says he never punched him.
The whole thing started outside Blow Pony, when after a night of bar-going, McCune and two friends were waiting on NW 6th and Couch to be buzzed into a friend's apartment above Casey's bar. Around them, the crowd from Blow Pony spilled out onto the street. McCune hadn't had a drink all night, but his friend Nick Woytuk was drunk and started asking people in the crowd for cigarettes. Somehow, the two groups started sniping at each other.
"It turned into a little pissing match," McCune told me. "'Fuck you guys!' 'No fuck you guys!' No one said anything about sexuality." Heater came out of the bar and got between the two groups. "He's right in my face, like right up against me," says McCune. "He grabs onto my shirt as I'm going in and says, 'Have you ever heard of the Hells Angels?'"
In court today, McCune's friend Torin Daniels, told the jury he also heard this line.
"And this is the moment that I'm not proud of and I wish I had not done," continued McCune, in our interview. "I said, 'I'm pretty sure the Hells Angels don't accept fags.'"
Heater says that's not how it happened at all. when he he heard the ruckus outside Blow Pony, he heard McCune shout, "You AIDS-infested faggots!" When he got between the two groups, Heater says McCune asked if he was "one of these faggots." Heater says he never said anything about the Hells Angels.
Finally, the apartment door opened, the friends rushed inside, but Heater and some of the Blow Pony crowd followed after them. Heater grabbed Woytuk and put him against the wall, pulling out his phone to call the police.
McCune says he tried to leave, but Heater blocked his path, so he angrily hit the phone out of his hand.
Heater says McCune approached him, called him a "fucking faggot bitch" and punched him in the face, causing him to drop the phone. A defense witness who was at the party, Daniel Perez, says he definitely saw McCune punch Heater in the face. McCune's friend Torin Daniels says he definitely say McCune just slap the phone with a hand motion "like I would high-five my little sister."
The call was recorded by the 911 dispatcher, but the audio just before the phone hits the ground is not clearly audible. What does come through clearly is Heater telling the police, "They're coming through the door." A mocking voice—McCune's—shouts over the line, "Yeah! We're coming through the door!" The phone hits the ground and someone else picks it up, saying that McCune knocked the phone out of Heater's hand and is "still yelling at everyone."
In closing, defense attorney Troy Pickard told the jury that Heater was right to stand up to bigotry—but in this case, Heater got the wrong guy, assuming he was being target as a gay man when he wasn't.
District Attorney Adam Gibbs said Heater was in the right. "If they wanted to beat up these guys who were making offensive comments, they outnumbered them. But what did he do? He called the police... At any point during this, he could have just backed off, let them go about their business, let them know it's okay to make these kinds of comments and just walk away."