Albion Monitor /News

Gays Support Youth Charged With Gay Bashing

by Lois Pearlman

Two gay men say that they were attacked without provocation

GUERNEVILLE -- While Sonoma County gays and lesbians have long demanded that the District Attorney charge gay-bashing suspects with hate crimes, many community members say the DA is blowing a recent hate crime case out of proportion.

The case involves 20-year-old man named Shannon Edwards, who allegedly attacked two gay men just before Christmas 1994 in Guerneville, a small resort town with a highly visible gay and lesbian population.

The gay men, Christian Caetano and Tom Gonzalez, both Santa Rosa residents in their twenties, say that Edwards attacked them without provocation in front of the Ziggurat dance club, where coffee shop owner Tony Garcia was throwing a Christmas party for friends and customers.

Edwards admits that he hit one of the men, but says that the assault was provoked by Caetano and Gonzalez, who had grabbed him by the testicles and touched his buttocks when he refused their advances minutes earlier.

A few months later, the two gay men filed assault charges against Edwards, according to a police report, and the Sonoma County District Attorney's office charged Edwards with misdemeanor assault and battery, as well as vandalism for allegedly banging on Caetano's car.

Then a year after the incident, Deputy District Attorney David Dunn upgraded the charges to a felony hate crime. The hate crime charge would allow a judge to impose a stiffer sentence on Edwards, if convicted.

One accuser has a reputation for groping men without their permission

Dunn has participated in a series of hate crimes forums around Sonoma County, sponsored by the county's Human Rights Commission. At the first of these forums, held in Guerneville, Dunn met the attorney representing Caetano and Gonzalez who had come to speak about the case. The attorney said it was a hate crime and complained that the DA's office was refusing to take it seriously.

Caetano and Gonzalez, with the aid of their attorney Michael Fiumara, also filed a lawsuit against Edwards, Garcia, and Ziggurat Club owners shortly before Christmas.

The lawsuit claims that Edwards committed a hate crime against Gonzalez and Caetano that resulted in serious bodily injury. Also, that the party host and the owners of the club were responsible for neglecting to protect the two men.

In the meantime, some gays and lesbians who know Caetano decided to speak out in support of Edwards. (Because they do not want to compromise the case if it goes to trial and they are called as witnesses, they have asked that their names not be used in this story.)

When they discovered that Edwards was in jail, three of them called Deputy DA Dunn with information about Caetano that they thought was pertinent to the case. According to these witnesses, Caetano has a reputation for touching men's sexual parts without their permission. One of them said he had been groped by Caetano.

The people who are speaking out against Caetano say they don't want to see the hate crimes law undermined by a case that they do not believe is a true hate crime. One man who worked for many years in a Santa Rosa gay bar frequented by Caetano, said many others in the community are familiar with Caetano's alleged antics, but are afraid to speak out because they are closeted gays.

39 Guerneville businessowners signed petition asked the DA's office to take a closer look

Dunn admits that the only evidence he had against Edwards is Caetano's and Gonzalez's testimony. Since the witnesses have come forward, the DA's office has begun investigating the case more thoroughly.

But Fiumara indicated that there is other evidence implicating Edwards.

"This is not a case based on the allegations of the two parties [Caetano and Gonzalez]," he said.

"I don't consider this an assault where there was premeditated gay bashing of any kind," said Municipal Court Judge Frank Passalacqua after hearing Edwards side of the story at a bail hearing.

At the March 8 hearing, Edwards' attorney Virginia Marcueda also presented the judge with a petition signed by 39 Guerneville businessowners, most of them gays or lesbians. The petition asked the DA's office to take a closer look at the case against Edwards.

Caetano's legal history is another thing that may deserve a closer look. Sonoma County Superior Court records reveal that he has filed two other lawsuits in the last eight years, both of which were dismissed by the court. In 1992 he sued several people for damages, saying that he suffered serious injuries when a car ran into his motorcycle in a turning lane. The case was dismissed.

Details about the other lawsuit that Caetano filed in 1988 were not available by press time, but the county computer indicates that it was also dismissed.

Judge Passalacqua has scheduled an April 3 preliminary hearing for Edwards' case, but Marcueda said that she hopes to settle it out of court.

However, Dunn and Fiumara say they will continue to push for a felony conviction against Edwards.

"We will do whatever it takes to prosecute this case fully and resolutely," Fiumara said.

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Albion Monitor March 30, 1996 (

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