He’d been attacked before. Maybe that’s why, just before he was pounded in the face by a bigoted bully, he pressed record on his phone.
The 21-year-old man had been locking lips with a 22-year-old man, immersed in a public display of affection after spending time at a local gay bar. It was predawn on April 5 and the couple had stopped for a spontaneous smooch en route to their hotel.
All of a sudden, according to detectives, a red Chevy Cobalt screeched to a stop on 5th Avenue and 9th Street in Huntington, West Virginia.
The man riding shotgun got out of the car and darted straight for his targets. “Stu don’t like that shit,” the man allegedly said. “Uh-uh, Stu don’t like that shit.”
The pugilist (who seemed to favor talking in third person) would later be fingered by police as Steward “Stu” Butler, a 23-year-old standout running back at Marshall University.
In the one-minute video, filmed by one of the victims, the attacker yells, “You motherf*cking f*ggots. N*gger-*ss f*ggots,” says Huntington Police Detective Chris Sperry, who described the video to The Daily Beast.
“It’s just awful,” the detective said. “They both get hit once in the face.”
It was all caught on a mobile-phone camera, even after the phone crashed to the ground during the alleged assault. “One of the poor kids drops his camera,” Sperry says, “and you hear his partner asking him ‘Are you okay? You okay?’”
The attacker then scurried back into the Chevy and the driver zipped off.
The vicious footage shook the 22-year veteran detective. “After seeing the video and what they did to these two individuals and thinking ‘This is bad!’ Watching it is like ‘Oh my goodness,’” he said.
But the video also presented the detective with clues that, he says, led him to the running back. “When I ran the plate, it came back to a woman from [sic] who had just graduated from Marshall,” Sperry said.
When the detective reached the car owner, he says, she gave up both the driver and Butler.
After Butler allegedly sucker-punched the men, he heard his friend behind the wheel of the Chevy shout “Come on, man! Let’s go. Let’s go,” Sperry said.
That mystery driver may have had selfish reasons to speed off. Police say they’ve identified him as a Marshall University teammate of Butler’s, and say that coaches told them the young man was apparently being scouted by NFL teams.
The next day the two alleged victims filed a police report.
More than a month passed.
It’s possible Butler and his buddy may have thought they’d dodged the law.
That seemed to be how Butler was playing his cards when Sperry first quizzed the senior running back. “I had no idea he was a football player,” Sperry says. “He just started telling me ‘They pushed me and I felt threatened.’” (Repeated calls to Butler’s lawyer for comment on this story were not returned.)
Already armed with the video, Sperry says he listened to Butler’s version of events before cutting him off. “I said, ‘Hold on right there. Sir, it’s on video.’”
According to the detective, Butler began grasping for an out.
“He said ‘What?’ and then he started backpedaling,” the detective recalls. And name-checking. He allegedly told the detective that he was a Marshall University football player and that he needed to talk to his coaches.
That didn’t impress the cop.
But the detective believes the football program wasn’t willing to play ball with the police investigation and that they stonewalled him at almost every turn.
“They looked at the video and they definitely could tell who it was but they wouldn’t tell me,” Sperry says. “That’s the kind of cooperation I got there.”
As for the mystery driver, “One of the coaches who gave me his name and card told me 11 days ago that that man was getting ready to be drafted in the NFL,” Sperry says.
The driver remains unknown. Sperry said he pressed the Marshall coaches but they remained mum. “They said he didn’t do anything and they wouldn’t tell me who he is,” he said.
According to NFL Draft results Marshall University's Thundering Herd cornerback Darryl Roberts was selected by the Super Bowl champs the New England Patriots in the seventh round.
Attempts to reach Marshall administrators for comment were unsuccessful, but yesterday, Butler surrendered to authorities and the college suspended him.
He faces two battery misdemeanors for the beatdown.
“This type of violent, bigoted behavior reported to have been perpetrated by this student is not tolerated at Marshall University. Period. This is an extremely serious matter,” the school’s interim president, Gary G. White, said in a statement.
The fact that Butler’s alleged assault isn’t being charged as a hate crime is based on the state’s narrow laws.
To classify as a hate crime in West Virginia an incident must involve “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, or sex.”
But the problem with the language is that it stops short at “sex” (as in “gender”), and does not include “sexual orientation.” By contrast, federal laws have much more range to prosecute crimes against gay citizens. In The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, anybody who is attacked based on “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” or even “disability” can amount to a hate crime.
West Virginia’s law rubs Stephen Skinner the wrong way.
Skinner, who three years ago became West Virginia’s first openly gay delegate, is convinced that the lawmakers cannot claim ignorance because he is a colleague.
“No one in the legislature can say that they haven’t met a gay person, because I’m here,” he told The Daily Beast.
While the state laws can’t apply a hate crime in this case, Delegate Skinner is hopeful the FBI will make a hate crime case if the evidence is there.
“If this is true, then this is an obvious example of the climate in parts of the country of America that shows an attitude of animus towards gay people,” he told The Daily Beast. “If these allegations are true, [Butler] should not play one more day with the Marshall football team.”
The delegate has fought for “sexual orientation” to be added to employee and housing rights for individuals in West Virginia, but the effort died at the judiciary level.
It’s high time for the crime books to get a makeover, Skinner said. “Should West Virginia crime laws be amended to add sexual orientation? Absolutely.”
He noted that it’s “absurd” that the state seems to value political affiliation over sexual orientation when it comes to hate crimes.
Andrew Schneider, who heads the civil advocacy group Fairness West Virginia, said that while the country is inching closer to tolerance, the Mountain State may be letting its citizenry suffer by not changing its hate-crime laws.
But the feds may in fact pursue the case, The Daily Beast has learned.
In a phone call with Raymond P. Duda, assistant special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh field office, Duda confirmed they are already making inquiries into the alleged assault.
“We were contacted by the Huntington Police Department and they did make us aware of the allegations and charges that were brought,” Agent Duda said, adding, “As in all allegations of hate crimes, we take these very seriously. We are looking into the matter and we’ll decide here over the next day or so whether to initiate a federal investigation.”
Detective Sperry says he’s already shared the cellphone video footage of the attack with the FBI and believes they will be compelled to take action beyond the misdemeanor charges.
“I will forward all of this information to the FBI and then they will bring it as a hate crime,” he said.
Butler was arraigned Wednesday in Cabell County Magistrate Court and was released on $10,000 bond.
He has numerous prior drug charges back in his hometown of Lakeland, Florida, including getting caught carrying a lot of dope back in 2009. He was given a year probation in that charge. A year later, the running back was found guilty in a domestic violence dispute. A month after according to court records, Butler was nabbed for pot possession (a misdemeanor), and was ordered to pay a $500 fine.
Yesterday, a woman who answered a phone at Butler’s home and identified herself as Butler’s grandmother told The Daily Beast he’s no gay basher.
“I don’t think he would do something like that. That’s not the grandson I know,” she said.
This story was amended to reflect 2015 NFL Draft results.