A man in Columbus, Ohio has been convicted for ethnic intimidation after making threats and harassing a gay man at his fitness club.
Ohio’s ethnic intimidation laws include crimes committed because of a person’s race, color and national origin but not does specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Michael D Smith was charged with the offense after he made anti-gay remarks toward the man at least in part because of the man’s sexual orientation and had to be restrained by two other gym members on August 23 at a North Side gym.
When Smith, 41, was informed by email that his membership had been terminated, he responded with two brief e-mails filled with profanity and gay slurs.
He had also gone to the gym on two different days during the last week of August threatening to ‘shoot up’ the gym if it did not ban gay members.
According to Dispatch.com quoting the city’s chief prosecutor Lara Baker-Morrish, ethnic intimidation is a ‘seldom-used charge’ in the city code as proving ‘the motivation is difficult.’
In this case, witnesses at the gym saw and heard Smith making a series of anti-gay comments while on a treadmill before he moved in the direction of club member Michael D Harris, 22.
Witness Laverne Kemp told the court that she was on the adjacent treadmill when Smith launched into a rant about not being able to go into the locker room ‘because all the fags are in there’ and that ‘he wished he could kill all the gays’ before he charged toward Harris.
She said another gym member got in front of Smith and she grabbed his arm before he could get to Harris.
Harris testified that he had not heard what Smith had said as he was listening to music through earbuds but was scared by Smith’s behavior and ‘felt I needed to be prepared to defend myself.’
Smith did not testify during the week-long trial but his attorney Sallynda Dennison suggested that her client was reacting to being ‘hit on’ by gay gym members and being stared at in the showers.
Assistant City Attorney Yasmine Almikhi said in her closing that it’s clear why Harris was menaced.
‘You can’t menace a person because they’re gay,’ she said. ‘It’s illegal.’
Smith will be sentenced next week. If convicted, the charge carries a minimum sentence of 10 days in jail.