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Hate Crimes on Wikipedia: Michael Sandy

You never know who you might meet. Or what they might do to you. That’s what I thought when I wrote up Jason Gage’s story. That’s true of, well, everybody. But in many of the cases I’ve researched so far, there’s an added wrinkle for LGBT people. The people you meet may intend to do you harm, because you’re LGBT and because they can. Because, as Paul Broussard’s attackers did, they think that you either won’t report being attacked, or that police won’t do anything about it. Because you’re LGBT. And, it follows, you don’t matter and neither does what happens to you.

That’s what Michael Sandy’s killers thought, when they sat in front of a computer, prowling a gay chatroom, looking for gay men they could lure into meeting with suggestions of sexual activity, and then rob. They figured that gay men would be less likely to resist. That they’d be easy to rob. And they met Michael Sandy. Five days later, Sandy was dead. He died trying to escape his four attackers. He ran into the street, where they pursued him and continued to attack him. Michael Sandy ran into traffic and was hit by a car. One of his attackers dragged him to the side of the road, rifled through his pockets, and left him there. Then, they went home and took naps.

When I first heard about Michael Sandy’s death, I thought to myself “That could have been me.”

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It could have been anyone, really, who meets up with anyone else. But, as I wrote about Jason Gage’s case, it’s different for gay men.

Anyone, gay or not, who takes home or goes home with a stranger is taking a certain risk, and making themselves vulnerable to harm. But I think where gay men are concerned, there’s an added danger of finding ourselves ourselves dealing with a someone who has specifically sought a gay man to rob or harm. Or we may find ourselves with a man who seemed interested at first, but who turns out to be so conflicted by or ashamed of his own same-sex desires that afterwards the shame and disgust he feels towards himself turns into panic and maybe even rage against the man who now knows his secret. And there’s only one way for his secret to stay in that room.

It’s even more different for black gay men, or black LGBT people period. Michael Sandy’s story echoes that of Michael Griffith’s death when he ran into traffic to escape a group of attackers at Howard Beach. The difference, as Jasmyne Cannick points out in her NPR commentary, is that Sandy’s case didn’t get the kind of response from black civil rights leaders and organizations that the Howard Beach case did. For that matter, Sandy’s death didn’t get the same level of attention as Matthew Shepard’s. Neither, for that matter, did Arthur Warren or Sakiah Gunn.

Maybe the guys who killed Michael Sandy were on to something.

Here’s what happened to Michael Sandy.

Free Image Hosting at allyoucanupload.comMichael Sandy (October 12, 1977 – October 13, 2006) was an African American gay man from Brooklyn, New York, who died after being hit by a car while trying to escape four attackers. His attackers later said they targeted Sandy because they were seeking gay to attack and rob.


The Background

Michael Sandy, 28, was a native of Bellport, New York, and lived in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He worked as a display designer at the Ikea store in Hicksville, New York.[1]

On the night of October 8, 2006, Sandy met Anthony Fortunato, 20, in an online gay chatroom and engaged in a chat with him. With Fortunato was John Fox, 19.[2] After exchanging emails about having sex, Fortunato arranged to meet Sandy at Plumb Beach, a rest stop and popular cruising location on Belt Parkway in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.[3] The meeting took about an hour to arrange. [4] Fox and Fortunato then departed for Plumb Beach with friends Ilya Shurov, 20, Gary Timmons.[2]

The Attack

Sandy drove his 2004 Mazda to the location, and met Fox first, near Emmons Avenue. The then drove to Plumb Beach, where Fortunato, Shurov, and Timmons were waiting.[4] At about 9:45 p.m., at least four witnesses saw four white men assaulting a black man. [5]

Shortly after Sandy arrived, witnesses saw two young white men approaching his car.[6] At that time, Sandy was confronted by two of the young men, who began looking through his vehicle.[1] Shurov pulled Sandy from the car and began punching him.[7]

Attempting to escape, Sandy runs towards the highway, back-pedaling away from the attackers, towards the highway. He appeared to be calling for help on his cell phone[2] Two of his attackers caught up with him in the right lane of the highway.[1] Shurov pursued Sandy across the guard rail, caught up with him in the right lane, and punched him.[2] Sandy backpedaled into the middle lane, and was struck. One of the attackers dragged Sandy back to the side of the road. [1] Shurov was seen rifling through Sandy’s pockets after he was struck.[7]

The Arrests

Following the attack, police got their first lead in the case from Sandy’s computer, which was still running the day after.[5] Investigators examined the hard drive.[6] The found exchanges with the AOL screen name “fisheyfox,” traced the IP address, and learned that the screen name belonged to Fox.[5]

Investigators visited Fox’s home at 11:00 p.m., and Fox’s father directed them to SUNY Maritime College, where Fox was a sophomore. Investigators arrived at the college at 2:00 a.m. and asked Fox to come to the 61st Precinct, where they began interviewing him at 2:52 a.m. During his interview, Fox made statements implicating himself, Shurov, Fortunato, and Timmons in the attack on Sandy.

Fox also gave two videotaped statements. He identified Shurov as “that Russian kid,” but identified him when police took a picture of Shurov from Fox’s MySpace page. A detective compared Shurov’s picture to mug shots of young men arrested in the 61st precinct, and found a match. Detectives went to Shurov’s home and asked him to come to the 60th Precinct police station for an interview [5]

Shurov arrived at the 60th Precinct station at about 8:00 p.m. on October 10. He was read his Miranda rights and later gave statements implicating himself in the crime. Shown a news report about the attack, Shurov disputed the details of the report. At 1:00 a.m. on October 11, Shurov dictated a written statement, and made a videotaped statement at 10:20 p.m. on the same day.[5]

Witnesses picked Fox and Shurov out of line-ups and identified them as having been at the scene, attempting to grab Sandy.

Fortunato was implicated by statements from Shurov and Fox, and surrendered to police on October 25. Timmons was arrested on October 11.

Fortunato’s family raised $1.3 million in hopes he would be granted bail. Bail, however was denied.[8]

The suspects were held at Rikers Island without bail.[7]

Sandy Dies

Unconscious and suffering possible brain injuries, Sandy was taken to Brookdale Hospital, where he was placed on a respirator and remained in a vegetative state.[1] Sandy remained on life support for five days, without regaining consciousness. He died on October 13, 2003, one day after his 29th birthday[9], when his family made the decision to remove life support.[10]

Following Sandy’s death, Fox, Fortunato, and Shurov were indicted on October 25 on charges of second degree murder as a hate crime and attempted robbery as a hate crime. The three also faced possible charges of manslaughter as a hate crime, and faced potential sentences of 25 years to life in prison.[11]

On October 25, Timmons pleaded guilty to one count of attempted robbery in the second degree as a hate crime.[12]

The Motive

During questioning after arrest, the suspects made statements indicating that they had used the internet to lure gay men in the past.[10] According news reports, the attackers told police that they thought gay men would be easier to rob.[13]

On April 25, 2006, the taped statements by Fox and Shurov were played in court, in order to determine their admissibility at trial. In his statement. Shurov said that he had been drinking beer at Fortunato’s house, while Fortunato looked online for a gay men to rob, and that Fortunato had said “It was the easiest way to make money.” [14]

The Aftermath

On August 3, 2007, Judge Konviser ruled that Fox, Fortunato, and Shurov could be charged with hate crimes in Sandy’s death, without evidence that they were motivated by hatred. In her written statement, Judge Konsiver said that prosecutors only need to show that Sandy was chosen because of his sexual orientation, under the state’s Hate Crimes Act of 2000. [15]

Sandy’s death also brought back to public attention the death of Michael Griffith, an African American man who was killed after being hit by a car in Howard Beach, Queens, New York, while trying to escape a group of attackers.

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