Two New Orleans police officers might face hate crime charges after they allegedly beat up a Latino man outside a bar earlier this week, following a dispute over his military record in which the officers called him a “fake American.”
John Galmon, 26, and Spencer Sutton, 24, both rookie cops who hadn’t yet completed their probationary period, were off-duty at the time of the incident, which occurred in the early hours of Tuesday morning at the Mid-City Yacht Club, a neighborhood sports bar.
The victim, 39-year-old Jorge Gomez, spoke to local news outlets later on Tuesday after he was released from the hospital. Gomez, who says he's a military veteran and served in the National Guard, told reporters that it all started when Galman and Sutton called him over to interrogate him about his nationality and the camouflage clothing he was wearing.
“He told me I was a fake American,” said Gomez, his face badly bruised and his forehead full of stitches. “And that I wasn’t in the National Guard, either. I told him I served a tour of duty in Iraq.” Gomez didn’t specify which officer made the offending comments.
Gomez — who told the New Orleans Advocate that he was born in the United States, grew up in Honduras, and then moved back to New Orleans as an adult — said that although he tried to walk away, the officers wanted to engage and started to hit him. He also recalled them threatening him, saying, “You’re going to die.”
Galman and Sutton were arrested and charged with misdemeanor charges of simple battery. They both pleaded not guilty Wednesday, and Sutton claims that he has “no specific memory” of the fight that led to his arrest.
In a statement to VICE News, a spokesperson with the New Orleans Police Department said that the investigation into the incident was ongoing and that the FBI, in conjunction with the Greater New Orleans Civil Rights Task Force, was “actively looking into whether this case meets the elements of a potential civil rights violation.”
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said Tuesday that multiple video accounts and eyewitness statements “clearly demonstrate that our officers were the aggressors in this incident.” Galman and Sutton have since been fired.
When asked by WVUE Fox 8 if they were looking into the beating as a possible hate crime, Harrison replied, “Well, we are.”
"We wanted to make sure citizens know that the behavior that you saw is not and never will be tolerated,” Harrison said. “We took very decisive and strong action against them with the evidence that was brought to us."
Cover image: New Orleans police officers stand guard at the Jefferson Davis monument on May 4, 2017 in New Orleans. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.