A 26-year-old gay Atlanta man said he was called anti-gay slurs and physically attacked inside a downtown Atlanta hotel, but prosecutors later refused to pursue the criminal case against the man police charged with assaulting him.
Justin Toland (top photo) said he suffered a concussion, several cuts and back injuries during an altercation with Judah Clark, 39, at the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel on Dec. 16. Toland said that after dinner with his date at the Sun Dial Restaurant at the top of the hotel, the two men stopped to use a fifth-floor bathroom. When Toland's date asked him if he was okay, Toland said a man later identified as Clark said he couldn't use the restroom “with the faggots in there,” according to an Atlanta police incident report.
“When we walked out of the restrooms together, there was a man and woman standing there leaning up against a wall,” Toland told Project Q Atlanta. “He said use the ladies room next time, faggot. At that point, I knew it was the guy from the bathroom.”
Toland and Clark engaged in an argument as the men proceeded to the hotel exit.
“He was so mad that I would turn around and say something and defend myself. He look so pissed,” Toland said.
Toland proceeded down an escalator to the fourth floor where Clark was standing and Toland told police that Clark struck him in the face. Toland told Project Q that he then followed Clark into the lobby, where Clark then allegedly attacked him again.
“Halfway into the lobby, he turns around and just kicks me out of nowhere,” Toland said, adding that the blow knocked him back and he fell and landed on his back and elbow.
Toland said he was yelling for help as he followed Clark to the valet stand so he could get the license plate number of Clark's car. A nearby Atlanta police officer heard the commotion and intervened.
Clark told police that he was in the bathroom with Toland and that Toland threatened him as he left, according to the incident report. Clark also told police that Toland “rushed him” several times in the lobby. He said that he punched Toland once in the face and kicked Toland several times to defend himself, according to the incident report.
Clark told police that he started to record the altercation on his cellphone when the incident escalated. An Atlanta police officer could hear some of the verbal altercation on the recording, including Toland calling Clark a bigot, according to the incident report.
Atlanta police reviewed video footage that showed only a portion of the confrontation between the two men, including when Clark turned around “in a fighting stance” to face Toland at the bottom of the escalator, according to the incident report.
“As soon as Mr. Toland reaches the bottom of the escalator Mr. Clark struck him in the face with a closed fist. The two then separated and I enter the frame only seconds later,” Officer Michael Vermillion wrote in the incident report.
As paramedics treated Toland for his facial injuries in the hotel lobby, Vermillion arrested Clark. The incident report noted that Clark was holding a metal Trayvax wallet with “finger grooves that allow it to be held as a striking instrument.” The incident report did not indicate it Clark used the wallet when he struck Toland.
“I was in shock. I couldn't believe that it happened and I was really upset,” Toland said in an interview.
'The defendant acted in self-defense'
Clark (second photo), who lives in Roswell, was arrested and booked into the Fulton County Jail on a misdemeanor charge of battery with substantial physical harm. He was released on a $1,500 signature bond.
Clark is the founder and CEO of Presto Restoration Products and two other companies that specialize in exterior restoration and waterproofing for high-rise buildings across the U.S. He also publishes videos on his YouTube page called The Fishing Adventures of Judah Clark. The popular channel has more than 11,500 subscribers and 4.1 million video views.
Clark called the incident “a bunch of lies” in an email response to questions about the altercation from Project Q. He denied that he used anti-gay slurs and said video footage from the hotel showed that he was defending himself from Toland.
“I would never use gay, racial or any derogatory slurs towards anyone. I have many gay friends and I always have, I was born and raised in Atlanta for Gods sake,” Clark said.
“I was forced to make contact with Justin 3 times while trying to get away from him. Each instance he charged at me and you can clearly see in the video that I never once advanced towards him. The entire time he was yelling and cursing and I was silent trying to calm him down,” Clark added.
A Fulton magistrate bound the case over to state court during a Dec. 31 hearing. It was assigned to Fulton State Court Judge Jane Morrison, a lesbian first elected to the bench in 2012. A trial was set for Aug. 10, but prosecutors abandoned the case before trial.
Clark, in his statement to Project Q, applauded Morrison for dropping the case.
“The judge, an outspoken lesbian herself, dropped the charges for good reason,” Clark said.
But the prosecution – and the decision to drop the case – was actually made in the Fulton County Solicitor General's office. Carmen Smith, the Solicitor General, said interviews with witnesses and video from the hotel supported Clark's claim that he was defending himself after the initial verbal confrontation.
“We certainly understand that Mr. Toland was offended and upset by certain language that the defendant used,” Smith said in an email.
“After the verbal exchange, the victim and the defendant version of what happened differs. However, the interviews of other witnesses and the videos of the Westin support the defendant’s claim that Mr. Toland came after him and that the defendant acted in self-defense. Based on facts and the evidence, the state could not successfully prosecute this case,” Smith added.
Toland said he felt “betrayed” by the case being dropped against Clark.
“I was so mad and so many emotions came over me. It's been a long six months. I felt betrayed by the system and that's when I decided I'm not going to be quiet about this,” said Toland, who has since posted detailed accounts of the incident on his Facebook page.
Clark said he is planning to file a civil lawsuit against Toland, Atlanta police and the Westin. He threatened to sue Project Q if a story was published about the incident.
“Justin is about to be served papers on this matter as well as the Atlanta police department and the Westin hotel. Not to threaten you, but if you release his story of lies and my name is included I will be forced to include you and your organisation [sic] in the civil case as well,” Clark said.
In a follow-up email, Clark threatened to sue Project Q a second time.