Gay Rights Group Decries Island Police

jefferson CBS

A U.S. gay rights group criticized what it called a slow response by St. Maarten police to an attack on two gay U.S. tourists who were beaten with tire irons outside a bar on the Dutch side of this Caribbean island.

Human Rights Campaign urged St. Maarten authorities to launch a complete investigation into the attack, which one of the victims described as a hate crime.

"A failure to conduct a full and complete investigation to apprehend a hate crime perpetrator not only allows prejudice to fester but keeps citizens and tourists at risk," Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese wrote in a letter to the Dutch ambassador in Washington D.C.

Dick Jefferson, 51, and Ryan Smith, 25, both journalists from New York, were outside a bar with several friends early Thursday when three men started hitting them with tire irons.

"A white car came screaming out of nowhere and attempted to run us down," Jefferson told CBSNews.com. "One came towards me with a tire wrench. I thought, 'What the hell?' and then I got whacked on the head. The next thing I know I'm waiting for the ambulance."

The men were airlifted to Miami for medical treatment. Jefferson has since been released, and said that Smith was being moved from intensive care on Tuesday. Jefferson has said that Smith was severely beaten and his doctors believe he may have suffered brain damage.

Jefferson, a senior broadcast producer for CBS' national evening news, said the attackers yelled anti-gay slurs at his friends earlier in the evening. He faulted St. Maarten authorities for not collecting witness testimony on the night of the crime or pursuing other leads.

"The police were and are still trying to ignore this situation," he said Monday in a telephone interview from Miami.

"They are not going to listen to you and are not going to help you," Jefferson told CBSNews.com. "You're basically on your own."

Jefferson said that as long as the Dutch justice system is plagued with indifference, airlines and cruise ships that bring passengers there are also culpable.

"Until they fix their system, the companies are as negligent as the Dutch police for putting their passengers in danger," he said.

Reports of a sluggish investigation into the attack will "most certainly give pause to members of our community who are planning any future travels to the area," Solmonese said.

St. Maarten, a popular Caribbean tourist destination, is an island shared by France and the Netherlands, and is known as gay friendly.

"It's like they don't want tourists to find out it's not the friendly island," Jefferson said.

Police, who have appealed to the public for help, held a press conference on Monday to dispel allegations that they have done little to advance the case. Officials would not reveal details of the investigation.

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