Springtown man faces federal hate crime charge in beating of gay man

02/23/2014 6:18 PM

02/23/2014 6:20 PM

A federal hate crime charge has been filed against a Springtown man who authorities say invited a gay man to his home through an online service, beat him severely and then put him in the trunk of a car.

The victim was hospitalized for 10 days after suffering multiple skull and facial fractures in the September attack, according to a federal criminal complaint.

The suspect, Brice Johnson, 19, told federal authorities that he was playing a prank on the man because of his sexual orientation and that it was a “joke that went too far and wrong,” according to the complaint, which the Star-Telegram obtained Sunday.

Johnson was arrested by Springtown police and initially faced a state charge of aggravated assault. But federal authorities took custody of him last week and he made his first federal court appearance Thursday in Fort Worth.

He is now charged with willfully causing bodily injury to a person because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation of that person. Johnson remained in federal custody Sunday.

If convicted of the federal charge, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“Suspected crimes of this nature will simply not be tolerated,” U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldana said in a news release. “With the assistance of all our partners, hate crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The federal criminal complaint gave this account of the incident:

Early Sept. 2, the gay man, identified as A.K., connected with Johnson through his smartphone on a program called MeetMe.com. A.K.’s page on MeetMe.com indicated he was gay, and Johnson indicated on his page that he was not. The two had never chatted before.

As they chatted that day, Johnson said he was interested in engaging in sexual activity, gave A.K. directions to his home and encouraged him to hurry over.

A.K. arrived at Johnson’s Springtown home about 5:30 a.m. Sept. 2, according to the complaint. Authorities said Johnson has given several different statements about what happened next.

In one version, Johnson said that he found A.K. beaten in the trunk of A.K’s own car and that he saw a black truck driving away.

But in an interview with Springtown police Capt. Curtis Stone, Johnson said he invited A.K. to his home. He said they were out talking beside A.K.’s car when the gay man grabbed Johnson’s crotch.

Johnson told police he said, “Dude, what’s your problem?”

According to Johnson, A.K. asked, “Aren’t you gay?” Johnson said no and hit A.K. “about five times,” the federal complaint says.

Johnson said that he then blacked out, and that his next memory was seeing A.K. bleeding and believing he was dead. He said he put A.K.’s body in the trunk and drove to a family friend’s home.

A.K. yelled for help from the trunk as he went in and out of consciousness while the car was parked at the friend’s home, according to the federal complaint. The friend and others told Johnson he needed to take A.K. to a hospital or they would call police. Johnson eventually drove A.K. to get medical help in Springtown.

A.K. was hospitalized for 10 days at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, the complaint states.

In later interviews with authorities, Johnson admitted participating in sexual communications on the website MeetMe.com but said he did not believe they were “for real.” A.K. denied to federal agents that he had grabbed Johnson.

In recorded jail calls, Johnson told family members: “I invited this guy over, right, at first it was basically like a joke that went too far and too wrong. I invited him over because he was [gay] or whatever.”

Investigators also found that Johnson saved A.K.’s phone number using a gay slur as a contact name.

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