August 24, 2011

Alleging hate crime, Harlan County lesbian couple seeks federal involvement

By: Bill Estep

A lesbian couple in Harlan County who believes they were attacked and beaten because of their sexual orientation wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the case.

The Kentucky Equality Federation on Wednesday requested that the federal government pursue the case as a hate crime, according to a letter provided by Jordan Palmer, its president.

The federation, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, made the request for Misty Turner and Brandy Standifer.

Turner, a 28-year-old nurse, told the Herald-Leader she and Standifer have lived openly as a couple for three years in the Pathfork community.

Turner has a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. She shares custody with the children's father, so the children live with her and Standifer much of the time.

Turner said she and Standifer, an emergency medical technician, had never had problems in the community because of their sexual orientation.

That changed July 4, Turner said, when the couple, the children and other family members were at a fireworks show at Pathfork.

As they sat in a church parking lot to watch the show, people among a crowd at a nearby house began shooting fireworks at them, Turner said.

The fireworks landed among her group, burning her son, her 80-year-old grandmother and others, Turner said.

"There was just sparks everywhere," she said.

Turner said she had seen people who were at the house drinking beer.

Turner said that when her father walked toward the group and she went after him to stop him, people in the group attacked her. When Standifer tried to intervene, others from the group started hitting and kicking her and knocked her to the ground, Turner said.

People in the "mob" hit only her and Standifer, not others of their group, Turner said.

That's one reason she believes the attack was motivated by the couple's sexual orientation.

Turner said people from the crowd called them "dykes" and made other derogatory comments related to their sexual orientation.

"If you want to look like a man, let's see you fight like one," one man said to Standifer, Turner said.

"I feel like it made them upset that we were there as a family," Turner said.

Alcohol might have fueled the anger as well, she said.

The attack left Standifer with a broken rib and bruises. Standifer had a man's shoeprints on her back, Turner said.

Turner was bruised and had a head injury and bleeding in her sinus cavity. She has more tests this week to figure out the extent of the damage, she said.

Turner said she could initially identify only two of the dozen or more people involved in the attack.

She swore out warrants the next day charging Rodney Howard with assault and Jeffrey Saylor, accused of pointing a gun at the couple during the incident, with wanton endangerment.

A judge later forwarded the charge against Saylor to a grand jury for a possible felony indictment but did not forward the charge against Howard, said their attorney, Otis Doan.

Doan said both men "totally deny" the charges.

Turner said she has since identified a third man, but she was advised to seek a charge against him from the grand jury.

She said she plans to do that in September. She said she will also seek a felony indictment against Howard.

Turner said that at the earlier court hearing for Saylor and Howard, their families were allowed in the courtroom, but her family members were not.

She also said Doan asked her questions she felt were derogatory, such as whether she promoted a lesbian lifestyle and still had custody of her children even though she is a lesbian.

Asked about the comments, Doan said, "I did my job as a lawyer representing my client."

Turner contacted the Kentucky Equality Federation after the hearing, concerned that her sexuality would hurt the case against those charged.

Kentucky has a hate-crime law, but officers with the federation said they were not aware of it ever being used in southeastern Kentucky.

Turner said she and Standifer are recovering physically, but the attack terrorized her children.

They've slept with her since, and they screamed when she recently had to stop for a school bus in front of the house where the attack happened, Turner said.

"Every night, I have to explain there are mean people in the world ... but mommy's not going to let anything happen to them," she said.

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