Six men, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were arrested minutes after they robbed and assaulted a gay couple at gunpoint on Friday in Piedmont Park, the second robbery the men allegedly performed that night.
Rev. Josh Noblitt (top photo), the social justice minister at Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Midtown, and his boyfriend, Trent Williams, were assaulted and robbed by a group of three young men about 10 p.m. as they were enjoying a picnic in the park. One of the men asked the couple, “Are ya’ll [sic] gay… we should whoop your ass for that,” according to an incident report released Tuesday by the Atlanta Police Department.
Noblitt and Williams fought their attackers until the men called for others to join in the attack, when Williams fled. Then one of the men brandished a handgun and robbed Noblitt, who suffered a visible head injury and complained of back pain after being punched and kicked by his attackers, according to the incident report.
“J. Noblitt stated that a black male wearing a black tank top put a gun in his face and demanding [sic] his wallet and cell phone,” according to the incident report.
A police officer, who was nearby helping with setup for the Peachtree Road Race the next morning, responded within minutes of the 911 call one of the victims placed. About 10 minutes after the assault on the gay couple, police spotted the alleged assailants in a nearby parking lot and arrested six people.
Three of the men are being charged as juveniles. The adults – Benjamin Johnson, 16; Sam Johnson, 17; and Jarvis Johnson, 19 – face armed robbery charges and were held in the Fulton County Jail. They are also suspected in a similar assault in Piedmont Park just minutes before Noblitt and Williams were robbed. The victim in the first robbery did not identify himself to police as a gay man, according to Carlos Campos, the public affairs manager for the police department.
“The response was immediate,” Campos says.
Officer Patricia Powell (bottom photo), the police agency’s recently-appointed LGBT liaison, was notified of the Friday evening attack sometime Monday, Campos said. How the police department notifies its LGBT liaisons of incidents involving LGBT victims has been at the center of complaints about the department since police raided the Eagle last September. The department’s LGBT liaison at the time – Officer Dani Lee Harris – did not find out about the raid until contacted by a reporter the next day.
Campos says he is investigating why it took three days to notify Powell of the incident.
“She has subsequently been made aware of the attack and reached out to the victims to talk with them about the case. It’s part of our continuing efforts to reach out to the gay community and be keenly aware of their needs and to work with them for the improvement of public safety,” Campos says.
Harris was placed on medical leave on April 16, though the public didn’t learn about the leave until activists and reporters questioned her absence from a May 6 demonstration that pitted hundreds of LGBT activists against a handful of anti-gay activists from a conservative church in Kansas. The police department says it appointed Powell on May 4, though it wasn’t publicly confirmed until reporters later asked about the status of the LGBT liaison.
Harris has charged that the department forced her to take medical leave and she’s filed a complaint against APD with its Office of Professional Standards.