A photo released by the NYPD of the suspect it identified as Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin.
The attorney for the man arrested June 16 for the assaults on two gay men in a Chelsea restaurant told Gay City News, “His sexuality is not an issue in this case.”
Bronx resident, Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin , 41, turned himself in at the 7th precinct in Lower Manhattan and was charged with two felony assaults and two attempted felony assaults in connection with attacks on two gay men, Jonathan Snipes, 32, and Ethan York-Adams, 25, at the Dallas BBQ on May 5. Although the police officer identified in the criminal complaint, Detective Richard Schneider, is a member of the NYPD Bias Incident Investigations Unit, no hate crime charges were filed.
El-Amin’s attorney, Raoul Zaltzberg, said his client “is very active in the LGBT community and has worked for a long time on HIV issues,” but, citing El-Amin’s wish for privacy, would not say whether he is gay.
“This is not a bias crime,” Zaltzberg said. “This is not being charged as a hate crime. It is being misportrayed that way by those making accusations against him.”
El-Amin is working on meeting the $25,000 cash bail/ $75,000 bond requirement established at his arraignment, where he pled not guilty, Zaltzberg said.
The day after the incident, Snipes told DNAinfo.com that after he accidentally spilled a drink while at Dallas BBQ the evening of the incident, “A table near us audibly started making pretty gross comments about the two of us like, ‘White faggots, spilling drinks.’”
Snipes told the news website that despite the fact that he weighs only 140 pounds and that one of the men making the remarks looked to be six-foot four, he confronted them over the slurs. One of the men stood up, and the incident quickly escalated, he said.
Hours after Gay City News, on the evening of May 6, first published a story online about the incident, Isaam Sharef, who had posted a roughly one-minute video of the confrontation, responded to the newspaper’s queries from earlier in the day by writing, “Snipes didn’t go to the table to confront him. He went over and punched the guy in the face. Then the guy got up and attacked him.”
Sharef did not respond to a follow-up question as to whether he had witnessed anything prior to Snipes’ punch. Neither Snipes nor York-Adams responded to messages left for them about the incident.
The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment about whether it viewed the assaults as hate crimes, but out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman told Gay City News hours after El-Amin’s arrest, “I’ve confirmed with NYPD that this incident is still being investigated as a hate crime.” Another source who was briefed on the police thinking about a hate crime charge told Gay City News that the NYPD and the Manhattan district attorney’s office have not come to a consensus on whether a hate crime prosecution can be successfully mounted.
Zaltzberg told Gay City News that the assaults had “never been looked at as a bias incident,” but when reminded that a bias unit detective was named in the complaint, he said, “Well, it’s not now.”
The criminal complaint describes the confrontation between Snipes and York-Adams and their attacker in details that were evident from the video posted online by Sharef.
“Informant#1,” who would be Snipes, “observed the defendant, while wearing shoes, kick him in the head repeatedly, causing swelling and substantial pain,” according to the complaint.
The complaint also says that Snipes “observed the defendant pick up a chair and strike an individual known to the District Attorney’s Office (informant#2) in the head with said chair and also strike informant#1 in the head with the chair.” That, the complaint continues, caused “substantial pain, and cuts and bruises to informant#1’s face and body.”
Turning to information from York-Adams, the complaint says that “the defendant’s above-described actions caused informant#2 to lose consciousness, caused a cut to informant#2’s head, swelling, and substantial pain.”
In the video clip posted by Sharef, a large bald and bearded man who appeared to be a light-skinned African-American was kicking Snipes on two occasions as others in the restaurant pulled the two men apart. After the second confrontation, York-Adams steered Snipes away from his attacker. At that point, the attacker broke free from those restraining him, picked up a chair, and bashed both Snipes and York-Adams over the head, with York-Adams appearing to take the worst of it, falling to the ground. Snipes sat down, apparently dazed by the attack.
Snipes’ mother, Trish Snipes, who spoke to Gay City News from her home in Alabama on May 6, said her son told her that a waitress at Dallas BBQ, whom she described as having a ponytail, urged the attacker to “hurry up and leave before the police arrive.” The man in the video is seen leaving the restaurant immediately after smashing the chair over Snipes and York-Adams’ heads.
Eric Levine, whom the restaurant identified as its spokesperson for the incident, did not return an email seeking comment on the attack and the allegation that an employee may have helped the attacker elude capture.
On May 19, El-Amin was named as the suspect in the case and identified as the man seen in the restaurant’s surveillance video about 45 minutes before the assault, and at that time multiple media reports cited NYPD sources as saying he had a total of 18 previous arrests –– on charges including assault, shoplifting, drug possession, credit-card fraud, forgery, and possession of stolen property –– in more than half a dozen states. The New York Daily News quoted NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce saying police suspected that El-Amin had fled the state. It was nearly a month later that El-Amin surrendered.
During the time El-Amin was at large, several online sources reported that a Facebook page they say is El-Amin’s indicated he is gay, but Gay City News has been unable to confirm that independently. On June 4, 12 days before El-Amin turned himself in, the G List website, identifying him as “a New York HIV/AIDS counselor and ballroom community leader,” quoted El-Amin as saying he was “disappointed” that the gay-bashing “card” had been played and that “certain members of the LGBT community” had called him a “homophobe,” a charge he said was “about the furthest thing from the truth about me.”
El-Amin’s case has been adjourned until June 19 for possible grand jury action.