St. Maarten official: Beating of gays ‘barbaric’

/ Source: The Associated Press

The beating of two gay Americans with tire irons in this Dutch Caribbean island was "barbaric and inhumane" and the attackers will be punished, St. Maarten's top tourism official said Wednesday.

New York journalists Dick Jefferson, 51, and Ryan Smith, 25, were outside a bar with several friends Thursday when three men attacked them. Jefferson, who said the attackers had yelled anti-gay slurs at his friends earlier that evening, faulted local authorities for not speaking to witnesses the night of the crime or pursuing leads.

At a weekly press briefing, Commissioner of Tourism Theo Heyliger called it a "barbaric and inhumane crime" and said it has the government's attention.

"These kinds of crimes won't go unpunished on St. Maarten," he said.

Three detectives were investigating the incident, and the public prosecutor's office has ordered a probe into the police response, the local newspaper, The Daily Herald, reported Wednesday.

Chief Public Prosecutor Taco Stein told the newspaper that authorities were speaking to witnesses.

Jefferson, a senior broadcast producer for CBS' national evening news, described the attack as a hate crime. A U.S. gay human rights group has criticized St. Maarten authorities, saying their response to the case has been sluggish.

The men were airlifted to Miami for medical treatment. Jefferson was released, but Smith's condition was not known Wednesday. Jefferson has said that Smith was severely beaten and that his doctors believe he may have suffered brain damage.

A call Wednesday seeking comment from Jefferson was not immediately returned.

Officials have received more than 500 e-mails — mostly from the United States — about the attack, which the prosecutor's office will respond to, Heyliger said.

The government has held meetings with public prosecutors, police, the private sector and counterparts on the island's French side about the attack, Heyliger said.

The island, a popular Caribbean tourist destination, is shared by France and the Netherlands.