By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — The mayor and councilman who decided last week to delay a vote on a gay rights ordinance in the November election had been briefed by police on the investigation into a gay hate crime that police now say was a hoax.
Mayor Chris Beutler and Councilman Carl Eskridge — who introduced the gay rights ordinance that got referred to voters in May — said they did not intend to put the gay rights issue on the general election ballot. The deadline for the Lincoln City Council to take action to get the ordinance on the ballot passed Monday.
The Lincoln Police Department on Tuesday announced that former University of Nebraska basketball standout Charlie K. Rogers was arrested and charged with filing a false police report, when she claimed she was assaulted, stripped and bound by three masked men who carved gay epithets into her skin. The 33-year-old lesbian still maintains the attack occurred and pleaded innocent Tuesday to a misdemeanor false report charge.
Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peschong confirmed at a news conference Tuesday that police had briefed the mayor “several times” about the status of the investigation during the past month.
Peschong said early on, “we didn’t know that the investigation was going in this direction,” but Beutler was updated about “some of the things that were not adding up.”
So did Beutler’s decision to delay a vote have anything to do with his knowledge that the hate crime might be a hoax? His aide, Trish Owen, said it did not.
“Two separate issues,” she said via email.
However, Eskridge said Monday that his knowledge that the hate crime could be a hoax was a minor factor in his decision.
Eskridge said that the day after the hate crime was reported, Public Safety Director Tom Casady briefed Councilman Adam Hornung and him about the case.
Eskridge said Casady told them there was no sign of forced entry, fire accelerant was found inside the house, the paint used to spray graffiti on basement walls was from Rogers’ house and the carved slurs were positioned in a suspicious way.
Eskridge said he came away thinking, “this does sound sort of suspicious.”
That would seem to contradict Peschong’s statement at the news conference that the possibility of a hoax is “the last thing” police suspect when beginning an investigation. He told KLIN that the investigation went from a hate crime to a false report after some forensic results and expert opinions emerged “several weeks into the investigation.”
Eskridge said he didn’t know police were planning to charge Rogers with lying to police until an arrest warrant was issued Tuesday.
“The mayor may have known but I didn’t know,” he said.
Eskridge said the main reason he didn’t want the gay rights ordinance to be placed on the general election ballot was because the election is already heated and political. He noted the City Council was criticized for rushing the gay rights ordinance through to passage.
“People said, ‘Don’t rush it. Give us time to study it,’” Eskridge said.
David Bydalek, executive director of Family First Nebraska, a conservative group that helped lead the gay rights referendum, said he has no idea whether the hate crime investigation played a role in city officials’ decision to delay the gay rights election.
“Councilman Eskridge admitted that it did play some role,” he said. “But I have no idea what the mayor’s office was thinking. I can’t get inside their head. It was probably one of a number of factors.”
Contact Deena Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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