Two rookie cops have been charged with simple battery in New Orleans after they were arrested this week in connection with the beating of a civilian at a local bar, according to jail records.
But hate crime charges could be added for John Galman, 26, and Spencer Sutton, 24, who were off duty at the time of the brawl at New Orleans’ Mid-City Yacht Club early Tuesday morning, police Superintendent Michael Harrison told the Times Picayune.
Jorge Gomez, 39, whose face was covered in bruises, and with stitches holding two wounds together during an interview, told the New Orleans Advocate that one of the off-duty officers didn’t like the clothes Gomez was wearing to the bar that night.
One of them “asked me if I was American,” Gomez told the newspaper. When he answered yes, that he was born in the United States before being raised in Honduras, the officers allegedly responded by taking Gomez’ bandana from him and calling him a “fake American.”
Then the punches started flying, police say. Witness accounts and security video from the bar clearly shows that Galman and Sutton instigated the fight with Gomez, according to a statement from Harrison.
Harrison began the process of firing the rookies on Wednesday, as they sat in the Orleans Parish Jail, the release states. Both officers were December 2017 graduates of the New Orleans Police Department Training Academy, and were still “in a probationary employment period,” at the time they were arrested.
Gomez told WWL-TV that both of them repeatedly told him, “I’m going to kill you,” during the beating, which took place in the bar’s parking lot.
But the Advocate cited two unnamed law enforcement sources familiar with the former officers’ side of the story who said that Gomez came at Galman and Sutton with a stick. Gomez told the newspaper that he carries a walking stick to help with his back problems.
“The evidence collected by our PIB investigators clearly demonstrates that our officers were the aggressors in this incident,” Harrison said in the statement. “Members of our department are expected to comply with the law and adhere to the highest standards of professional conduct, whether on- or off-duty.”
In Louisiana, the hate crime designation is a penalty enhancement, meaning that if hate crime charges are added, and if Galman and Sutton are convicted, five years would be tacked onto each of their sentences.
A neighborhood support fundraiser will be held for Gomez at the Mid-City Yacht Club on Aug. 4. A GoFundMe fundraiser in his name had raised more than $4,200 of its $7,500 goal as of Saturday afternoon.