Salt Lake City police arrested a man for allegedly punching and kicking a gay man in front of an apartment building on 300 W and 200 S on Sept. 27.
The victim, Jeff Smith, said he was sunning on the porch of his gay friend’s apartment, smoking and talking to passers-by when an upstairs neighbor walked out onto the deck and started yelling at him, shouting slurs like “faggot.” Smith said he responded by saying, “fuck you.”
“He came outside and started kicking me and hitting me on my sides, like my ribs and my head. That’s when I curled up into a ball,” said Smith, who asked QSaltLake not to use his real name out of concern that he would face retaliation. When his alleged assailant went back inside, Smith said he went into his friend’s apartment and called the police.
“I didn’t want to call the cops because I was hesitant about it,” said Smith. “She said, ‘You have to do this.’”
When police arrived on the scene they arrested apartment resident James Burson, 35, for simple assault—that is, a physical attack that did not involve a weapon.
“We’re trying to figure out the back and forth of how this ended up as an assault,” said Lara Jones, Salt Lake City Police Department spokeswoman. “We have two stories from the victim and Burson, and whether or not it remains a hate crime remains to be seen.”
According to Jones, Burson told police that Smith’s smoking upset him.
“It looks like there was smoking involved that was bothering the arrested person,” said Jones. “What lead him to then beat the victim we’re still investigating.”
“Obviously our officers believe there was enough probable cause to arrest Burson on simple assault,” she added.
Smith said that his alleged attacker never said anything about smoking.
“I don’t know why he started hitting me. That’s the first I’ve heard that it was because I was smoking outside,” he said. “Maybe it wasn’t gay oriented, but that was the first word that came out of his mouth”
Smith said that his ear was ripped and his face bruised and swollen during the attack. Although he still has “a whole bunch of bruises,” he said he sustained no permanent damaged.
The attack, however, has troubled him. He said a gay friend who lives in the complex no longer feels safe there, and that he often thinks about what could have happened.
“It was lucky … that it wasn’t someone smaller than me, where they could’ve gotten really hurt,” he said. “Yes, I’m OK in the sense that I am physically OK, but emotionally it hurts. I wasn’t doing anything, jus talking to people walking by, and this guy just came out. Whether it was smoking or not, that’s no reason to start hitting someone. It’s just scary to think what could happen to other people.”
Smith said that he plans to file charges.
As of Oct. 2, Burson’s name did not appear in the Salt Lake County Metro Jail’s roster.