Pittsburgh police charge North Hills man in Lawrenceville beating

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A Ross man charged with assaulting a gay man in Lawrenceville over the weekend told Pittsburgh police homophobic slurs uttered before the fight were not targeted at the victim, according to court records.

Vincent Happ, 24, told detectives that he and four friends left Remedy bar early Sunday morning and some people in the group began using a derogatory word for a gay person to refer to one another when Benjamin Stoviak, 26, of Squirrel Hill, and his boyfriend, Aaron MacLachlan, 22, overheard them and thought the remarks were directed at them.

A criminal complaint quotes Mr. Happ as telling police: "We tried to tell them that we were speaking to each other, and not to them, but the guy with the short hair (Benjamin Stoviak) would have nothing of it and kept instigating a fight. He and I had more words and then a fight broke out, I don't know who threw the first punch."

When police arrived on Butler Street shortly after 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Mr. Stoviak's face was bloody and several bruises were beginning to form.

Pittsburgh police Wednesday charged Mr. Happ via summons with one count of simple assault. News of the attack spread quickly via social media early this week.

Mr. Stoviak declined to talk about that night. At least one local LGBT advocacy group has contacted local officials asking them to consider investigating the matter as a possible hate crime.

"We vehemently deny that this is a hate crime," said Charles Gallo, the attorney representing Mr. Happ. "This has nothing to do with anyone being gay."

He described the incident as "a bunch of drunk guys at two o'clock in the morning who got into a fight."

Mr. Stoviak told police, according to the criminal complaint, that he and his boyfriend left the Blue Moon bar Sunday morning and were walking to their car when they heard someone use a derogatory term. He told police he initially ignored the remarks but then three men surrounded him and his boyfriend and one of the men punched and kicked him.

Police quoted one bystander as saying that Mr. Happ kicked Mr. Stoviak and then got in a black Hyundai with some other men. That bystander took down the license plate, which police traced to a car owned by Mr. Happ's mother, who told police her son was using the car Saturday night, according to the complaint.

Police also spoke to a man who was with Mr. Happ that night and told him he did not see all of the fight but that he did at one point pull Mr. Happ off Mr. Stoviak.

Dozens of people, including Mr. Stoviak, gathered in Lawrenceville Wednesday night for a rally. Some recounted times they felt they had been targeted because of their sexuality. Others offered support for Mr. Stoviak and his boyfriend.

At the end, Zone 2 Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Eric Holmes, whose officers are investigating the case, answered questions about the Pennsylvania hate crime statute -- under which officials have said this case would not fit the criteria for prosecution -- and about the police response.

"When I came in Monday morning and I read the report, it was one of those things where you just shake your head," the commander said. He said his officers will continue to investigate the case and will work with the Allegheny County district attorney's office to determine whether additional charges should be filed.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438. Twitter: @LizNavratil. First Published October 9, 2013 11:27 AM


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