Early July 14, a group of teenagers, shouting homophobic slurs, surrounded Luke Hankins in the parking lot of the Patton Avenue Ingles; one hit him hard enough to cause three fractures. The Asheville Police Department is looking for the suspects. While the APD has reported the attack as a hate crime, attacks based on sexual orientation aren’t covered under North Carolina’s hate crimes law, so no additional penalties are possible.
“I pulled up to the Ingles on Patton Avenue. There were a group of teenagers, and as soon as I got out of the car, they started yelling at me, calling me ‘faggot’ and ‘bitch,’ with no provocation,” Hankins tells Xpress. “When I came out, they were waiting for me [and] followed me across the parking lot, calling me names, asking me why my shorts were so short. When I got to my car, they came up and said they were going to follow me wherever I went.”
Hankins says he told the group — two white males, a black male and a black female, all between the ages of 16 and 20 — that they couldn’t follow him.
“I didn’t leave. I didn’t want them following me, [but] one of the guys hit me in the side of the head,” Hankins says. “My glasses flew off. I was dazed for a minute. I tried to find my glasses so I could get their license plate number. One of the kids picked up my glasses and slammed them on the ground. I heard the lenses come out and couldn’t find them again. They [the group] pulled off before I could get close enough to get the license on their vehicle.”
The vehicle, he says, is a late ‘90s white Chevy Tahoe or Suburban.
“They didn’t try to take any money. They were just out to hurt somebody,” Hankins says. “They thought I was gay. They were homophobic and wanted to attack me because of that.”
The APD considers the incident — currently simple assault — a hate crime and is investigating. “We do report to the state that this fits the criteria for a hate crime,” says APD spokesperson Lt. Wally Welch says. “However, we have no mechanism to provide any enhanced charge in this matter because sexual orientation is not covered in N.C. General Statute.”
Hankins went home, but was in such pain that by 4:30 a.m. that he went to the emergency room, where doctors found three fractures in his face.
“Right now they’re waiting to see if the fractures will heal or if I need surgery,” he says.
Hankins claims that the APD officer that initially responded to his call didn’t file a report or interview witnesses, including an older man who helped him find his glasses and, Hankins believes, witnessed part of the attack. He has filed a complaint.
[The officer] “asked me what happened, took my cell number, my license, asked if I wanted him to call me if he found them,” Hankins says. “The officer never asked anyone around questions. I was too dazed to think to do that. There was a witness that could’ve been important.”
Welch confirms that Hankins has made a complaint against “the officer that originally responded, and his claims are being investigated by professional services. Can’t elaborate beyond that.”
Anyone with information related to the case can contact the APD at 252-1110.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter