The man allegedly responsible for hurling anti-gay slurs and assaulting a trio of gay men in Hell’s Kitchen has been identified and charged in the September attack.
Air Force Staff Sergeant Benjamin Ford — who allegedly used the terms “faggot,” “homo” and “queers” before punching one man and shoving another outside a bar on Ninth Avenue — has been charged in a military court with three counts of assault and battery and one count of issuing a false statement.
The Air Force and the NYPD agreed to try Ford in military court, and his punishment will include loss of a month’s pay, loss of a stripe, and the lowering of his rank.
Air Force finishes a job the NYPD originally shirked
The September 26 altercation started when Ford allegedly hit one of the men with a lit cigarette as they walked past McCoy’s Bar near 51st Street, and then responded with an anti-gay epithet when they approached him about it. The confrontation led to an exchange of words that escalated into the fight, with Ford allegedly punching one of the victims twice in the face and shouting “Die of AIDS, you fucking queers.”
“I’m glad that he is answering for what he did that night in some way,” said one of the victims, Blake Hayes, who brought attention to the issue by publicizing the attack on his personal blog. He noted that Ford’s apology letter to the three men, which they haven’t yet received but has been read to them by an Air Force official, acknowledged that “taking a stripe away is probably more humiliating than going to jail.”
Police responding to the September 26 incident outside McCoy’s bar refused to file a report at the time and released Ford without taking down his name. After the victims contacted City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office about the attack, the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force and Internal Affairs Bureau opened investigations into the handling of the matter.
“If you commit a hate crime in New York, you’re going to have to face the consequences,” said Hayes. He credited Quinn, an out lesbian, for the outcome because she “ordered the police to do their jobs.”
According to the Daily News, the Hate Crimes Task Force identified Ford, a bomb defuser, during its investigation and had an Intelligence Division officer track him down at an Air Force base five hours outside London.
Ford initially denied he started the fight despite the victims’ claims, which were subsequently verified through a surveillance tape of the incident.
“It’s less than ideal. In a perfect world he would have been brought back to New York and put on trial here, just as you should for any crime,” Hayes said. “The military made it very clear — the Air Force specifically — that they were taking it very seriously and this was not something that was just going to get swept under the rug.”
The results of the NYPD investigations will be known shortly, Hayes added, with likely “disciplinary action” to be handed down to the officers responding to the scene and another person at the precinct who resisted the victims’ attempts to file a report.
“It’s one of these things where I think that what we did was worth it,” Hayes explained. “Even if it’s just one person, we did at least send him the message that it’s not okay to have those feelings, and certainly not okay to carry them out physically.”
In a written statement, Quinn said, “This sentence shows that if you commit a hate crime in New York City, you will be pursued, apprehended, and prosecuted. I want to thank the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force for working collaboratively on this case with my office as well as with Air Force officials. I applaud the United States Air Force for taking swift and appropriate action on this case. This crime was also notable because of reports from the victims that NYPD officers responding to the scene did not appropriately recognize the seriousness of the incident and failed to collect contact information from the alleged assailant. An Internal Affairs Bureau investigation is in progress and we are awaiting the results of this investigation.”