The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Hate Crime Charges Filed in Attack on Maryland Transgender Woman

By Evelyn Schlatter on May 18, 2011 - 12:21 pm, Posted in Hate Crime

Two teenagers charged with brutally attacking a transgender woman in a Baltimore-area McDonald’s restaurant on April 18 – a beating captured in a cell-phone video that went viral on the Internet – will be prosecuted as hate crime perpetrators.

Teonna Brown, 18, was indicted Monday (May 16) on state assault and hate crime charges in the beating of Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, at the Rosedale, Md., restaurant, according to the Baltimore Sun. A hate crime charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, which could be added to the 25-year maximum for the assault charge. Brown is also charged with assaulting a customer and a McDonald’s employee who tried to intervene. A 14-year-old girl, whose identity has not been released because of her age, is facing the same charges in juvenile court.

Polis was attacked when she emerged from the bathroom at the restaurant. A McDonald’s employee captured video of the event on his cell phone and then posted the video to YouTube, which took it down, but not before it had gone viral. (The employee was fired for doing so.) Confusing accounts and details of what led up to the attack appeared in different media outlets during the following week. Polis initially told a reporter the fight started because one of the assailants thought Polis was talking to her boyfriend. Later, one suspect reportedly said the fight was over Polis using the women’s bathroom. Scott Shellenberger, the Maryland state attorney for Baltimore County, told the Sun in an April 24 article, “When the case was first presented, none of those facts had been revealed to the police – which is why the charges were the way they were.” He said then that his office would revisit the motive for the attack and determine if “we need to make additional charges.”

Polis’s attorney, William Murphy, told the Sun that Shellenberger made the right decision to seek hate crime charges against her attackers. “There is, we think, ample evidence to support his decision that this should be a hate crime,” he said. Dana Beyer, a board member of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Associated Press that people who see the video in which Polis was brutally beaten might feel that the attack was “clearly a hate crime.” But she noted that it is important for the evidence to be there for the charges. “If there is no hate crime enhancement, the public can get very upset,” she said. But, “it doesn’t benefit anyone to have the law applied indiscriminately,” and it is “always a difficult call.”

As the SPLC reported last fall in the Intelligence Report, members of the LGBT community are vastly more likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime than any other minority group, as shown by an analysis of FBI hate crime data. Although official statistics on attacks on transgender people do not exist, it seems clear that they are almost certainly the most victimized members of that LGBT community, and therefore the most victimized group in American society. In 2003, the Report published an article on an epidemic of murders of transgender people in the Washington, D.C., area.

  • Stefanie

    This is just so awful. I have never seen such uglyness of the human nature! I do hope the people responable will punished accordingly to the law as it applies

  • MrsCaptJack

    All I can add is that this poor woman is going to remember the rest of her life what she went through on that day. Hopefully, she is able to overcome it and let it strengthen her rather than cripple her so she lives in fear.

    Almost thirty years ago I watched my fiance’ get mowed down by a drunk driver and go flying over the hood of her car to his death. I can still remember ALL of it like it was yesterday. I have learned to live inspite of what I saw and lost. I can only hope that this woman is able to draw on her own inner strength to do the same. Live large, inspite of this horrific attack.

  • kate

    Good take Judas,

    I would only add that quite often those who bleat the most about “great America” and how advanced it is, seem to be willing to condone, aid and encourage this kind of barbaric behavior.

    In a just and tolerant society, one’s gender identification or how one handles any part of the personal lives should be their own business, period.

    These girls should not get off easily, they should not be allowed to see freedom for the rest of their lives. Young children are put away everyday in our society for long, long periods of their lives for the non-violent crimes of drug possession without a thought.

    But for some reason, we sit here and wring our hands about the “justice” of depriving the future liberty of two individuals who knowingly and intentionally inflicted harm that will permanently deprive the happiness and future liberty of an individual, who did them no harm whatsoever.

    Let them rot in jail.

  • Sam Molloy

    Todd, you may not like it but those views are as outdated as arguing over sprinkling or dunking. You are identifying people by sex, we are speaking of gender. People naturally go in the one with the picture that matches them best. I have heard of a third rest room becoming the norm, sometimes labelled with both pictures and a Handicap Accessible sticker.

  • Judas

    I watched the video several times myself. And I observed the “alleged” assailants (innocent until proven guilty) punch and kick the victim over and over during an extended period. It went on for so long they took breaks from the beating to rest, and even going so far as to leave the building several times, only to come back inside to beat the victim even more. They both intended to inflict as much harm as possible to this victim as they could. And I certainly hope that at some point they do not try to insult us by telling us that they are remorseful for what they did.

    Leaving aside for a moment the transgender motive, and hate crime aspect we can plainly see their actions were clearly not those of any rational human beings. They would not listen to those that asked them to stop, took breaks and turns beating the victim, and finally only decided to stop when they were warned by an employee that the police were on the way to arrest them. Then and only then, did they cease and desist to run like guilty cowards as “they knew what they had done was wrong.”

    Is there a hate crime? That is for the jury to decide. Was there a crime committed that had the possibility of causing severe physical trauma or even death? Yes! Did the assailants realize what they were doing to this person? Yes! Did it ever appear that they cared that they were inflicting great bodily injury? No! Were these they actions of individuals with rational behavioral patterns? No!

    Joanna Wagner said: Justice needs to be tempered with mercy. These women are dumb kids. It would be cruel to make them pay for the rest of their lives.

    I would have to ask if we watched the same video, if you watched the video at all. How many head kicks can one take before brain damage occurs? How many face kicks or punches can one take before severe facial trauma occurs? How many kicks to the chest and stomach can one take without internal injuries? You say it would be cruel to make these “dumb kids” pay with the rest of their lives…but I highly doubt they had “the rest of the victims life” in their minds as the continually inflicted more and more damage.

  • Mark Potok

    Thanks to as said. I admit to some real confusion on this point, as we’ve heard it both ways from well-meaning people over the years. However, we checked this morning with GLAAD’s journalism style guide and you’re right — transgender person is the correct style. We’ll adopt that as our own style in future writings. Thanks again.

  • as

    Please correct the language in this posting. The appropriate word is transgender, NOT transgendered.

  • Jay Huddleston

    I watched that video from start to finish and it was tough to watch. It went on and on. Those girls should go to PRISON. If you hate people, that’s your problem. If you attack people because you’re a bigot, SCREW YOU! Prison.

  • Caroline

    This is so sad. Whatever happened to “live and let live”?

  • Linnea

    I also think the perps should be nailed for attempted murder and assault, as well as hate crime charges. Given that they are so young, I would hope and pray that they would also be given some type of education as well. Seems like the younger generation is generally more accepting of GLBT people, but unfortunately, there seem to be plenty of exceptions.

  • Todd

    If a man goes into the girls bathroom, I have a problem. Especially if my daughter is in there.

    Transgender. Caught somewhere between a man and a woman. I’m told multisex people are as common as redheads.

    Eugene,Oregon started converting public mens and ladies rooms to just restrooms to deal with this.

  • Snorlax

    We’ve had a couple transgender murders here. This is a serious problem.

  • Joanna Wagner

    I deplore the behavior of the perps in this case. They deserve to be punished. 25 years for the assault seems adequate enough to me. I’m guessing that would translate to 5 years incarceration with a long period of parole.
    Justice needs to be tempered with mercy. These women are dumb kids. It would be cruel to make them pay for the rest of their lives.

  • Sam Molloy

    Children enforcing gender roles by force, taught by an atmosphere of intolerance perpetuated by sleazy scapegoating politicians and preachers.

  • Ken Z Chicago

    I think attempted murder charges should be considered. They’re damn lucky they didn’t kill her. Anyone who could beat and kick someone like they did, someone who was already on the ground, injured and defenseless is subhuman. I hope they get maximum penalty.

  • A.D.M.

    Father Santiago (if you are a priest), did the girls shout ethnic/racial slurs? Did they say anything that identifies the victim as being white? If not, then you’re saying is hearsay and false.

  • Father Santiago

    Dan Beyer of the LGBT group is right that ” that it is important for the evidence to be there for the charges.”
    None of the Video or the evidence discussed above indicates that this is a hate crime regards transgendered people. However, the video clearly presents evidence that the attackers knew the victim was white which should leave open Hate Crime enhancements for attacking a white person because they are white.

  • Rocky

    Few of these Hate Groups realize that we live in a country where “the pursuit of happiness” is protected. We can make our own choices and do not have to agree with others preferences. A lot of our young fight and die for this freedom. It’s sad that some people think they can decide what others do or how they live their lives, isn’t it.

  • Zoe Brain

    Think about it – a group so despised and discriminated against that statistics on crimes against them *aren’t recorded*. Because so many people discriminate against them, it’s socially acceptable to, even politicians.

    All you have to do is read the newspapers to see the death toll.