Vancouver
6 min

Twice in two weeks

Police allegedly mishandle second bashing.

Credit: Robin Perelle

Less than two weeks after police allegedly mishandled a brutal gaybashing at the corner of Davie and Hornby, community members are angrily demanding answers about another incident that appears to have gone wrong. Even a police inspector has questions.



The latest incident occurred around 3:30 am Sat Jul 12. It began when a gay man named Rick Butzelaar left PumpJack Pub with his straight friend, Karen. They quickly ran into a group of four or five young people in their early 20s. One jumped in front of Butzelaar and aimed a video camera at his face. “Are you gay?’ he allegedly asked.



Butzelaar immediately felt threatened. “As soon as the camera was on me, I figured something was up,” he says. His worries were soon borne out as someone in the group yelled “fucking faggot!”



Butzelaar tried to walk away. He and his friend began walking towards Thurlow, the cameraman dogging their every step. But they never made it.



Partway down the block, another member of the group jumped in front of them, blocked their path and punched Butzelaar in the head.



The blow must have stunned Butzelaar because the next thing he remembers is sitting on the window ledge in front of Stepho’s restaurant, dripping blood and ducking to avoid the spray of dirt that his assailant was throwing at him.



“He was grabbing dirt out of the [window box] and just heaving it at us,” Butzelaar recalls, still shaking his head in disbelief.



Then the attacker started pulling the window boxes out of the wall. “It was brutal,” Butzelaar says. “You could hear the nails coming out of the wall.”



Window boxes in hand, the basher heaved one after another at the gay man and his friend. “I was just in total shock,” Butzelaar says.



That’s when the attacker picked up Karen’s purse and walked off with it. For Butzelaar, it was the last straw. “My blood started boiling. I just felt like I had to do something.”



Butzelaar took off in pursuit and soon caught up to the attacker-thief and his sidekick. A brief altercation ensued. Butzelaar managed to grab the purse and run back to Stepho’s-where he discovered three police cars already on the scene.



Butzelaar says he pointed out the assailant-thief to the officers before sinking to the ground, blood streaming from the cut near his left eyebrow.



“I just figured everything would be taken care of,” he later told Xtra West.



But everything was not taken care of.



In fact, as far as Butzelaar and his friend could tell, police did not rush off to catch their attackers. Police later said they had another cruiser in the area looking for suspects, but they didn’t catch them.



Butzelaar still can’t believe it. “The [attacker] was right there,” he says. “He was in visible range. A guy on foot could have caught him.”



But nobody did-and police have yet to make an arrest in the case.



Police also refused to talk to Butzelaar at the scene, let alone take his statement.



Not one officer approached him as he sat there bleeding, Butzelaar says. No one offered him any medical assistance; no one even asked him what happened.



Finally, Butzelaar approached one of the officers himself, as the officer climbed into his cruiser. “I’m the victim of this gaybashing,” Butzelaar says he told the officer. “Don’t you want to talk to me?” The officer allegedly shut the car door in his face and did not reply.



Angry, hurt and frustrated, Butzelaar decided to call 911 himself. He left the scene looking for a phone. No one tried to stop him, he recalls. No one asked him to wait and give his statement. No one even asked for his name.



Butzelaar walked down the block to the 7-Eleven at Davie and Hornby-where a similar incident had unfolded less than two weeks ago. He called 911 and told the operator that he had just been gaybashed. The operator asked him if he needed an ambulance, then told him to wait there; an officer should arrive in about an hour.



Det Louise Neil eventually showed up at Butzelaar’s apartment four days later.



“I’m just in shock,” Butzelaar says now. “I mean, I’m more pissed off at the way the cops handled it, than I am at getting gaybashed.”



Patty Hails knows what he means. She’s the five-feet-tall lesbian who threw herself between two big gaybashers and their intended victim two weeks ago.



The officers who attended that incident wouldn’t take her statement at the scene, either. Nor did they pursue her attackers-even though she gave them their licence plate number as soon as they arrived.



Police haven’t made any arrests in that case, either.



“I think it’s sick,” Hails says. “It’s devastating.”



It’s the repetition that Hails finds most disturbing. That’s twice in two weeks that police had the chance to catch bashers and failed, she says. And that’s twice that they refused to listen to the gays and lesbians at the scene of the bashing.



“To serve and protect-they’re not doing that right now,” she says, her voice shaking with emotion.



There is “absolutely” a pattern emerging here, says Hails’ friend, Lori Neuen, who also intervened in the Jun 29 bashing at the corner of Davie and Hornby. The police have now mishandled two gaybashings in a row.



“We have a problem, fundamentally, with how the police respond to our community,” Neuen says. “Davie St is a unique community. It’s imperative for the police to understand the uniqueness of the community they’re serving so they can respond appropriately to the community’s needs.”



Butzelaar agrees. “I am so angry,” he says. “Obviously the incident on Jun 29 had no affect on the way the police handled anything [two weeks later].”



The gay representative on the police chief’s diversity advisory committee is concerned, too. Vince Marino says he’s been looking for answers ever since he heard about Butzelaar’s experience.



This is the Davie Village, he says, the heart of the gay community. “Officers should be more aware of their locale.” They should ask if it’s a gaybashing as soon as they arrive on the scene-and then respond accordingly.



Though Marino doesn’t have all the answers yet, he says it doesn’t look like these officers responded appropriately.



Among the questions he still wants answered: Why didn’t any officers offer the bleeding Butzelaar (who needed stitches on his forehead) any medical assistance at the scene? “That, to me, is kind of shocking,” Marino says.



Insp Bob Meanley says he’s baffled, too. It’s standard procedure to assess the scene upon arrival, check if anyone has been hurt and offer them help if they need it, says Meanley, who co-manages district one with Insp Dave Jones.



“That’s the way we do things,” he continues, noting that he has yet to speak to the officers in question so he hasn’t heard their side of the story.



Marino also wants to know why the officer Butzelaar approached refused to talk to him. “If that’s borne out, I will be pretty upset,” Marino says.



Again, Meanley says he doesn’t know what happened at the scene-but he does expect his officers to be approachable as a general rule. Police officers are supposed to follow certain guidelines, he says, whether the people involved are gay or straight.



Det Neil says she doesn’t know why the officers at the scene behaved the way they did, either, because she wasn’t there. She’s just the follow-up investigator, she says. It’s her job to gather as much information as possible, interview the witnesses and, hopefully, make an arrest. She is treating the case as a hate-motivated assault, she adds.



But she won’t say how likely she is to make an arrest in this case.



Nor will she comment on whether an arrest would be more likely had the officers seized the video on the scene. She still doesn’t know if there was any useful evidence on the video; she may never see the footage now.



But she does have an explanation for the four-day delay between the initial incident and her follow-up with Butzelaar. Neil says some of her colleagues tried to contact Butzelaar the day after the incident but could not reach him.



Butzelaar says he never got any messages.



Neil says she only received the case Tues Jul 15; she followed up with Butzelaar the next day.



Marino is not satisfied. A four-day delay after a gaybashing is “far too long,” he says.



Overall, he finds the whole incident-coupled with the one that occurred two weeks ago-disturbing.



A lot of people, from both the gay community and the police force, have worked hard to make the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) more gay-friendly, he says, referring to efforts made in the wake of Aaron Webster’s fatal gaybashing in November 2001.



Somehow, somewhere, that work is not getting through to everybody at the VPD, he continues. And that means more action is required.



Hails agrees. This isn’t over, she promises. “I’m not going to rest until I’ve done something about it.”



Neither will Butzelaar. He wants answers and he wants them now.



“I want a meeting with the police,” he says. “I want to find out exactly why they reacted the way they did-and I want to tell them how I think they should have reacted.



“And I want a public apology, dammit!”



If you witnessed anything related to this gaybashing call Crimestoppers at 604.669.TIPS.