Cops investigate attacks targeting gay men
Dane Hall was leaving Club Sound late on Friday night.
The 20-year-old had had a typical, fun time at the club's gay-themed night and decided he'd take his usual stroll to his house, which is within walking distance of the club at 200 South and 600 West.
That's when he said he heard a gay slur shouted in his direction.
The openly gay man glanced back quickly but kept walking.
A few moments later, he said, someone punched him in the back of the head.
He was knocked to the ground. Four men loomed over him. One picked him up by the front of his shirt and punched him several times in the left side of his face.
He was again knocked back to the ground.
One of his assailants rolled his head, placing his right cheek against the curb.
Realizing he was about to be "curb checked," Hall said he retreated into his own mind.
The man stomped on the side of the Hall's head.
Hall, who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and 150 pounds, had his jaw fractured in three places, and a chip of his jawbone jammed into his brain. His cheekbone also shattered and he lost six teeth.
Hall managed to get up after the attack, which Hall estimates lasted less than a minute. He walked toward a police officer and a medical crew that was about a half-block away. He said the police were busy working on something else and didn't get any information from him. Hall persuaded the medics not to call an ambulance.
"I knew I didn't have any money for a doctor," Hall said through a wired-shut jaw on the front porch of his Salt Lake City home.
Instead, two of his friends drove him to LDS Hospital.
There, they gave him a shot and he didn't wake up until the next morning at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.
He filed a report with police after he awoke, he said.
Salt Lake City police are investigating whether anti-gay sentiments motivated the attack that left Hall in critical condition, but they aren't saying much about the case and aren't providing any suspect information.
They are, however, looking into a second assault on a gay man, which they say may be linked to the attack on Hall.
In the other assault, a group of men broke into a man's apartment above Cup of Joe and beat up the resident's boyfriend, who was sleeping on the couch, according to Tom Taylor, owner of Club Sound. The assailants chased the man out of the apartment to the street.
Taylor was driving from his club when the victim of that crime approached him and asked for help. Taylor, a trained emergency medical technician, treated the victim and called for police and medical help.
Taylor was not immediately aware of the attack on Hall and wishes that he would have been able to put the two incidents together sooner. He said he called police Thursday morning to report the possible connection between the two attacks.
"We can't let these kinds of things not get taken care of," Taylor said, adding that he has been reviewing the security camera footage from his club to see if it captured either of the attacks or the assailants.
Salt Lake City police are not releasing any details about either attack.
"We are investigating this fully. If it rises to the level of a hate crime, we immediately bring in the chief, because that's how seriously we take those kinds of crimes," Detective Dennis McGowan said.
Hall didn't describe the suspects but said "I'll know them when I see them."
They are the men who changed his life forever.
"I never thought this would happen here," Hall said. "My physical appearance will never be the same."
His normally thin jawline is now wider than the rest of his face, and his remaining teeth are not quite in place. He also has a three-inch scar and two screw holes along his neck, along with several other cuts and scars on his shoulders and chest.
Hall's medical bill surpasses $40,000, and he has no medical insurance. He was supposed to start a new job at a dentist's office on the Monday after the attack. That's now on hold. An account has been set up for Hall's medical expenses. Donations can be made at any Zions Bank branch to the "Dane Hall Fund."
He had a metal plate inserted in his face to repair his right cheek bone, and his jaw will be wired shut for months.
"I could have died," he said.
But he says he's not going to let this attack ruin his life.
"People are always saying the west side is scary, but I've never been afraid," he said. "This was once in 20 years. I think it was just a bunch of losers whose side job is to gay bash. I'm just going to use the buddy system from now on."
If you want to help
To donate to help pay Dane Hall's medical bills, call 801-403-1038 or drop by Zions Bank and say you want to contribute to the "Dane Hall Fund."
Utah has two criminal statutes that address hate crimes:
One allows prosecutors to raise certain misdemeanors by one degree where the offense was committed to intimidate or terrorize another person, for instance from a class B to a class A misdemeanor. Prosecutors say this statute is rarely used because of its limited scope.
Another directs a sentencing judge or the Board of Pardons and Parole to consider as an aggravating factor "the public harm" resulting from a crime, including the likelihood of inciting community unrest or causing members of the community to fear for their safety or to freely exercise their constitutional rights.
Prosecutors say that because of Utah's indeterminate sentencing scheme where, for instance, a second-degree felony is punishable by one to 15 years in prison this statute can make a significant difference in the amount of time a defendant spends behind bars.
Unlike the vast majority of states, Utah does not have a law protecting people who share a group characteristic. Utah's laws focus on the intent of the perpetrator rather than the status of the victim, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.