A lesbian couple said they became victims of hate crime earlier this month when a group of Scottsdale bar patrons beat one woman while others ripped down her partner’s dress and took pictures of her exposed breasts.
"There was no provocation for this," said Julie Melson, 38, who said Friday she still is recovering from the kicks and punches she said she received April 4 from under a "dog pile" of men outside the Rogue Bar at 423 N. Scottsdale Road.
"They were probably on me for a minute or two, which is a long time when you are being kicked and pummelled," she said. "I have never been beaten or been in a fight in my life. I think I was just in shock."
Scottsdale detective Sam Bailey said the department is not releasing its report until further investigation. The incident is classified as an assault rather than a hate crime.
"It has some characteristics of a hate crime," but Scottsdale detective Joe Nichols, who is assigned the case, hasn’t made that distinction, Bailey said.
The women say they were struck by bar patrons, both men and women, who repeatedly yelled slurs at them.
Melson and her partner of eight months, Suzanne King, 32, called police later that day. They and officer Andrew Parker took pictures of bruises and cuts to Melson’s face, breasts, arms, abdomen and knees. Melson said she wouldn’t mind if the pictures were made public.
"I would love for people to see what a hate crime looks like," said Melson, who, though recently recovering from a long illness, still has some of the musculature that helped her win body-building titles such as Miss Arizona Heavy Weight in 1999.
Bar owner Mark Maertens said he wasn’t there the night of the assault, but employees told him it involved two women hitting two other women. "All I heard was there was some altercation outside," he said, adding that his bar does not condone violence or discrimination.
Maertens said he did hear that a man with a cell phone camera took pictures when King’s breasts were exposed.
Melson said she and King went out with four heterosexual female friends to celebrate King’s birthday. They had gone to two other establishments before the Rogue, a nightspot that attracts a clientele partial to punk rock. King had celebrated her last two birthdays there, she said. They had no trouble with anyone inside the bar, they said.
"It was just a fun night and we were having a great time," Melson said.
As they walked out at closing time, they said a man and a woman just outside the door called them derogatory names and made crude comments. The woman punched King, who fell to the ground, Melson said. When Melson turned to confront them, the man pushed her. She punched him in response, which is when several men tackled her, she said.
"I was under a pile of people," Melson said.
Bronwyn Zwar, one of the women with the couple, said she and a friend had left before them and didn’t know about the fight until another woman told her Melson and King were being attacked. She ran back, but couldn’t even see Melson.
"There was a pretty big crowd and I was on the outside," Zwar said.
She did see King, who was down on the pavement, trying to cover her breasts while a man took pictures.
"Different guys were jumping in front of the camera and getting their pictures taken with her," she said.
Another friend managed to knock the camera from the man’s hand, Zwar said.
Other people, including a man they didn’t know, eventually managed to free Melson. A little more than a day later, Melson went to a Phoenix hospital to make sure the pain she felt wasn’t from broken or cracked bones.
Kirk Baxter, a member of the task force that works with Phoenix police on gay and lesbian issues, said the incident should be categorized as a hate crime, which would mean harsher penalties and fines.
"Because there were clear homophobic references made during the assault," he said.
Ken Culver, with Scottsdale’s Human Rights Commission, is looking into the incident as well "just to make sure it is reported properly," he said.