Police investigate brutal assault on gay men as a hate crime - FOX 35 News Orlando

Police investigate brutal assault on gay men as a hate crime

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Ernie Barnes and Jermon Barnes Ernie Barnes and Jermon Barnes
PHOENIX -

A valley DJ and performer was attacked on the streets of Phoenix Friday -- and police believe it's because he is gay.

DJ Austin Head is used to headlining club performances, not headlining news. Police say the outspoken gay rights activist was left beaten and battered, the victim of a vicious hate crime.

The attack happened near Osborn and Central very early Friday morning. The victim says he was on his bike and a friend was with him on foot. The two suspects spotted them and started yelling homophobic slurs at them. Moments later Head blacked out. The 28-year-old was beaten so badly he ended up unconscious.

"I woke up in the emergency room early Friday morning with massive swelling, I wasn't able to see out of this eye," says Head.

This is what he looked like just hours after that brutal attack early Friday around 2 a.m. Head and a friend were on their way home from a bar when they say these men targeted them.

"I called out to him to catch up and they saw us and approached before he could get onto the bicycle handles for us to ride away. They pushed us off the bike and began hitting us."

Head's friend was punched in the face, but managed to call for help. He was able to ID the two suspects, later identified as 24-year-old Ernie Barnes and 22-year-old Jermon Barnes.

Police are now investigating this as a hate crime.

"It was unprovoked and they violently lashed out against us."

Head, who doesn't have insurance, will now have to deal with hospital bills for his injuries. He may eventually have to have a plastic surgeon perform reconstructive surgery.

He says overall he believes this country is shifting toward acceptance, but says what happened is just a sad reminder, there's a still a long way to go.

"I don't feel, living in a free society, anybody should be attacked for how they live or whom they live with," says Head. "It's unfortunate that there are still people out there fearful of the unknown rather than learning of it, they'd rather lash out against it."

He says he's dealt with verbal assaults before, but he's never experienced anything violent like this.

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