Joshua Esskew, 19, who is gay, said he was walking into the store when a man shouted a gay slur at him. When Esskew walked away, that man hit him with a beer bottle in the back of the head.
The federal involvement in the probe of the potential hate crime comes as local law enforcement continues to investigate the attack as an assault.
“We’re all over it,” said special agent Earl Burns, a spokesman for the Columbia office of the FBI. “Matters of this sort — hate, civil rights — are one of our highest priorities in the bureau.”
“What we’re trying to do now is determine the extent of FBI involvement.”
Esskew said as many as eight men came running from different directions and beat him, in what he described as a “hate crime.”
South Carolina has no “hate crime” laws, but the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. hate crimes Prevention Act, enacted in 2009, gives federal authorities power to investigate allegations of crimes against gays that could potentially be civil rights violations.