Updated: 7:30 p.m. EDT
PHILADELPHIA — A week after online sleuths used social media to identify suspects in the beating of a gay couple, three suburban Philadelphia defendants surrendered to police Wednesday and were charged in what one defense lawyer called merely a “fist fight that got out of hand.”
Police said 24-year-old Philip Williams of Warminster; 24-year-old Kathryn Knott of Southampton, the daughter of a suburban police chief; and 26-year-old Kevin Harrigan of Warrington turned themselves in Wednesday morning. They were charged with criminal conspiracy and two counts each of aggravated and simple assault, and reckless endangerment.
The victims told police a group hurled gay slurs and beat them when the two parties passed on a Philadelphia street Sept. 11. One man suffered serious facial injuries, including an orbital fracture, and had his jaw wired.
Williams’ attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., said the suspects and other friends had been celebrating a friend’s birthday at a city restaurant before the encounter.
“In no way, shape or form was this incident related to anyone’s sexual orientation,” Perri said Wednesday outside the police station where his client surrendered. “This was a mutual confrontation that started because two individuals got into an argument out in the street.”
Perri said his client was not the aggressor. Police, though, have said the defendants made disparaging remarks as they approached the couple.
“The group then attacked the complainants, holding them while other members of the group punched them in the face, head and chest,” police said in a statement Wednesday.
Knott’s attorney, Louis Busico, also denied that the dispute was motivated by anti-gay bias or that his client hurled insults or threw any punches.
“Ms. Knott is absolutely not homophobic and she didn’t utter any slur to anyone, whatsoever,” Busico said. “We don’t deny that there was a gentleman who was assaulted. We don’t deny that this gentleman was injured. But I unequivocally deny that my client did anything to hurt this man; she wouldn’t hurt anybody.”
The nature of the charges led Lansdale Hospital to suspend Knott from her three-year job as an operating room technician. The hospital also said in a statement that it was looking into her Twitter account “for potential violations of patient privacy.”
Harrigan’s lawyer, Josh Scarpello, declined to discuss specifics of the criminal case, but said his client played a minor role and planned to plead not guilty. Scarpello said the group did not set out to attack the couple and described the ordeal as a “fist fight that got out of hand.”
The case gained attention when police posted a video of the suspects, and online followers used social media sites to help identify them. One man in the group has since stepped down as a part-time basketball coach at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster. He was not among those charged.
A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which last week banned the coach from working at any archdiocesan school, declined further comment Wednesday on the personnel matter.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, in announcing the charges Tuesday, said that “an assault on people because of their sexual orientation has no place in Philadelphia.”
Pennsylvania‘s hate-crimes law does not cover crimes motivated by a person’s sexual orientation. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, along with openly gay state Rep. Brian Sims of Philadelphia and others, has said the case demonstrates the need for the law to change.
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