No arrests as police investigate punching of gay Utah man on viral video

(courtesy Twitter) Salt Lake City police have had contact 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.

Although investigators have located the man who was filmed hitting a gay man this weekend in Salt Lake City, he has not been arrested and police are looking for more witnesses and video footage.

“This isn’t something we can just quickly wrap up,” said Salt Lake City Police Detective Greg Wilking. Investigators are trying to learn more about what occurred before and after the eight-second video that spread around social media after Sal Trejo, the person who was hit, posted it Sunday on Twitter.

Trejo’s footage opens near 327 S. Main St., where a man is asking, “Are you gay, though?”

Trejo replies, “Oh, I am.”

“Oh, then you are gay.”

“Yeah, but ...”

The man then appears to strike Trejo, knocking his camera out of position.

“As appalling as that eight seconds is, that’s not the end-all, be-all to the story,” Wilking said.

Investigators want to gather as many witness accounts as possible, as well as any other evidence that could shed light on what happened off-camera.

The man has spoken to police but has not consented to an interview, Wilking said.

"We can't compel him to come in and talk to us," he said.

Trejo has said the confrontation continued after the video cuts out. Trejo and his friends "got in the guy's face," and the man pulled out a knife. The man also shoved a woman in Trejo's group, Trejo has said.

A weapon could "change everything" in a potential assault case, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. Gill would not comment on this case specifically but said details about how a weapon was used could affect the severity of charges filed after an investigation of a fight or attack.

"At some point, [police] are going to have to put their case together and bring it in when they they think they've exhausted it," Gill said. "We don't interfere ... until they're done."

Because police are investigating the events in the video as a possible hate crime as well as a possible assault, details about what led up to the filmed exchange could be important to the question of intent. Trejo has said the man was making homophobic and sexist comments to the group before they began recording.

"We haven't talked to all of the people involved," Wilking said.

Wilking said the length of the investigation shouldn't be viewed as a sign the attack in the footage has been misrepresented. He acknowledged that the public may "jump to conclusions" after recent developments in a hate crime report filed in Chicago by Empire actor Jussie Smollett, who said two men beat him and placed a rope around his neck while hurling racist and homophobic slurs. Two suspects in that case were released last weekwithout being charged, and police announced that the "investigation had shifted." Officers have declined to comment on reports that the attack was a hoax, and Smollett's attorneys have objected to suggestions that the attack was staged.

"I don't want anyone out there thinking we don't believe the victim in this," Wilking said of the Salt Lake City case. "That's not what I'm trying to convey. What iIm trying to convey is, we have to be measured in our response. If we're not, then we're doing a disservice to the whole community.

"I wish that it was fast and simple, but it may not be."

Gill said evidence of intent in a hate crime may not influence what prosecutors ultimately decide to do with the case.

"It doesn't matter; I don't have a hate crimes statute I can use," Gill said.

Utah legislators have shut down multiple efforts to toughen Utah’s hate-crimes law, which has been described as one of the weakest in the nation. The most recent legislation has not received a hearing.