Police discrimination claimed in Columbia

A gay man visiting friends in Columbia, Tennessee claims he was harassed and arrested by Maury County Sheriff deputies and Columbia Police officers because he was “gay and effeminate.”

Brian Williams (not his real last name but he asked that it be changed for fear of retalitation), 39, of San Francisco, CA, was visiting Mathew Sabah, 27, and other friends in Columbia, when he was arrested on March 24 for public intoxication – despite his claims that he had drunk no alcohol and no sobriety tests were performed on him for public intoxication.

After spending four hours in the Maury County Jail, Williams was released without any charges against him.

“I was not issued a citation,” Williams said. “To me this is outrageous and just as clear and unjust a hate-based case of anti-gay discrimination.”

Williams said he was given a bail receipt which indicated he has a court date of May 1 at 1:30 p.m.

"I believe there were charges of public intoxication, but I wasn't issued a summons or citation," he said.

For Williams and Sabah, the evening on Saturday, March 24 started out innocently enough. The two, along with another friend and Sabah’s sister, went to the Sports Page, 300 East James Campbell Blvd., in Columbia.

“We were uncomfortable about going in this bar anyway, but my sister had been there on many occasions, and assured us that the people who also went there, were a nice group,” Sabah explained. “However as soon as we walked in together, heads were starting to turn and looking our way. They stared us down, and I felt very uncomfortable from the get go.

But my sister assured us all was fine, and she left us to socialize.”

Sabah said drinks were ordered and it was decided that Williams – who would soon face the public intoxication charge – would be the group’s designated driver.

“Brian drank coke,” Sabah added. “We were there about an hour and half and then it all started.  About ten police officers came in. Some went to one side of the bar and stood watching us. Two - a male and female officer stood near us - one on one side of our table, and the other on the other side of our table.”

Sabah said the officers stood close to them for “roughly 20 or 30 minutes.” During that time, he said he, Brian Williams and another friend continued to talk and socialize.

“We three men were quiet, not loud, and not offensive,” he said. “We were causing no trouble. The two officers stood by our table and listened to us chat, and I do believe they were called to have us removed from the Sports Page, and was trying to find any excuse to remove us from the establishment. The bartender and hostess had already shunned us. Finally one of the officers leaned over the middle of our table and said, ‘you three need to leave.’ When we asked why, he said, ‘you’re publicly intoxicated."

It’s a charge that Williams vehemently denies.

“We were not, especially I,” Williams said. “One of my friends had about two thirds of a drink the other had about half. I had not had any alcohol. Meanwhile, going right past this officer, is a girl that is so drunk she can't even walk. She was being carried by her friends, people stumbling, screaming, yelling, and very obviously drunk.”

Williams said the group was singled out because they are all gay.

“The officer had stood next to us long enough to listen to our conversation and from that easily could ascertain that we were a group of gay men, not to mention we were rather well dressed compared to the general customer base and kind of stuck out visually as well,” he said. “I called this officer on his homophobia, and asked if he had ever heard of the ACLU. I was a little upset about being singled out. I then walked to the car and waited for the others.”

Williams said before his friends could make it to the car, he was in handcuffs and was being arrested for public intoxication.

“I was angry and in a state of shock,” he said. “I couldn't believe they would take their homophobia to this level. I was taken without a sobriety test to the Maury County Jail where once again no alcohol level test was conducted; I was simply placed in a cell without telephone access or toilet facilities and held for four hours until my friends were allowed to bail me out. I was told at the jail that everything was done and that there was no need to go to court.”

Williams admits that none of the officers made direct comments about his or his friend’s sexuality.

“No, not directly,” he said when asked if any of the officers made comments about his sexual orientation.

He said he plans on contacting the District Attorney to “voice my opinion to them and also try and get them to drop the case.”

He said Mathew Sabah did contact the DA’s office and that “Matthew tried to speak to the DA, and the DA was unresponsive.”

Matthew Sabah said that he did call the local District Attorney’s office.

“I called them and they stated each case is different and they would not be interested in taking the complaint until they looked at the issue further,” Sabah said.

“The police report is good fiction,” he added. To me this is outrageous and just as clear and unjust a hate-based case of anti-gay discrimination as any other. Being from Northern Colorado originally and having been acquainted with numerous friends of Matthew Shephard, I was literally fearful in that jail, I am now having nightmares and am afraid to be in groups of people. This has left a scar on me that you can't see, but I can certainly feel.”

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