Salt Lake City police locate man who ‘messed with the wrong queers’ when he punched a gay man in a video gone viral

(courtesy Twitter) Salt Lake City police are looking for this man, seen in a short video asking if the person recording him is gay and then smacking the person. The video was posted on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019.

Salt Lake City police have located the man captured on video hitting another man after asking if he was gay.

The assault is shown in an eight-second video posted to Twitter on Sunday by Sal Trejo. It quickly spread, catching the attention of the community, elected leaders and the news media.

“He just messed with the wrong queers,” Trejo said. “We knew that we would be able to find him because we have the resources and we have the support of the great community here in Salt Lake City.”

The assault took place on the sidewalk near 327 S. Main St. about 1:30 a.m. Sunday. The video starts with the suspect asking, “Are you gay, though?”

Trejo responds, “Oh, I am.”

“Oh, then you are gay.”

“Yeah, but ...”

That’s when the man smacks him with his right hand.

Here is the video. Warning, it includes violence and explicit language:

“I’ve been called a f----t [anti-gay slur] before," Trejo said, “but I’ve never been hit before.”

He said that after being initially discouraged when police first told him there was little chance the man could be found, “We’ve gotten great support from them. They’ve been very responsive.”

According to a tweet from Salt Lake City police, detectives “have made contact with the suspect who is cooperating fully with the investigation.” Police confirmed that the clash is under investigation as a possible hate crime.

“I’m glad they’ve made contact with him,” Trejo said. “A part of me is saddened that he also has to go through this, because it’s not easy. But I hope he learns a valuable lesson, and I hope that something good can come out of this."

He said the clash began when the man confronted him and three friends, shouting “homophobic and misogynistic" slurs at them. Trejo said he then began recording video with his phone because the man was “getting increasingly aggressive verbally." The man — whom police have not identified — not only hit Trejo but also shoved one of the women who was with him, Trejo said.

Trejo and his friends “got in the guy’s face” after he threw the punch, and in reaction the man pulled out a knife. He walked south on Main Street, and "eventually got in his car and drove on the [TRAX] tracks.”

Trejo said he wasn’t hurt, “but the point here is he did hit me. He did get aggressive. And he did pull out a weapon.”

(Photo courtesy Sal Trejo) Sal Trejo was punched by a man who was shouting gay slurs at him on a sidewalk in downtown Salt Lake City.

"Emotionally, it was very difficult,” he said. “People need to know that this is happening. People need to know that this was not OK. And that if you do this to somebody, you are going to be caught. You are going to be held accountable for your actions.

“It’s been shocking. It’s been difficult. It’s been overwhelming. But there also has been an overwhelming outpouring of love and support from people all over.”

State Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City and the only openly gay member of Utah’s Legislature, also took to social media, posting the video late Sunday with this message: “It’s time for the UT Legislature to act on hate crimes legislation.”

Trejo said he hopes what happened to him will help prompt the Legislature to act.

“As somebody who believes strongly in everybody’s equal rights, and as somebody who is very proudly gay — I never hide that part of me — it’s sad that it happened to me and my friends," he said. "But I’m glad that it did in the sense that we can share our story and hopefully shed some light on this and get something happening to protect people.”

Equality Utah posted that the group is “deeply alarmed. ... No one should be attacked simply because of who they are."

This comes a week after a pride flag was torn in front of Laziz Kitchen, the restaurant owned by Kitchen and his husband, Moudi Sbeity.

State lawmakers have rebuffed repeated efforts to toughen Utah’s toothless hate-crimes law. The most recent version has yet to get a hearing.

Tribune editor Matt Canham contributed to this article.

The Salt Lake Tribune is partnering with ProPublica and newsrooms across the country to better understand the prevalence and nature of hate crimes, bias and prejudice. You can share your insights with us at sltrib.com/documentinghateand we may contact you for future stories.