September 22, 2011

Hate crime alleged in attack in Harlan

By: Bill Estep
Lexington Herald-Leader

PARTRIDGE — An advocacy group has asked federal officials to investigate a case in which a Letcher County man says he was viciously beaten in Harlan County because he is gay.

Two men have been charged in state court with attempted murder and two women have been charged with complicity to commit attempted murder stemming from the April beating of Kevin Pennington.

The Kentucky Equality Federation recently asked the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case, saying there was a concern the case wouldn't be handled aggressively locally.

It is the second such request the federation has made in Harlan County in recent months concerning an alleged attack related to sexual orientation.

Jordan Palmer, president of the federation, said that Pennington's case should be prosecuted as a hate crime, but that he was not aware of a prosecutor in southeastern Kentucky ever using the state's hate-crime law.

However, Harlan County Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Johnson said he intended to pursue the case as a hate crime, which would bring a higher penalty for a conviction. Johnson said he thought there was evidence that the attack on Pennington was motivated by his sexual orientation. Johnson said any concern that his office would not prosecute the case well was unfounded.

"I think the case would be treated fairly and seriously here," he said.

In the other alleged hate crime, a lesbian couple attending a Fourth of July fireworks show with the children of one of the women said several people who had been drinking yelled slurs and attacked them.

Pennington, 28, of Partridge was assaulted in April, according to court documents. However, the federation only recently asked federal officials to step in because Pennington had not come forward, Palmer said.

Pennington said people had directed slurs at him before, but no one had ever attacked him physically.

"They would not have done this to me if I wasn't gay," he said.

Those charged in the attack are David Jason Jenkins, 37; Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20; Mabel Ashley Jenkins, 18; and Alexis Leann Jenkins, 18.

The men were first charged with assault, but a grand jury changed the charge to attempted murder. The women were charged with complicity. All four have pleaded not guilty.

According to court records, David Jason Jenkins and the two women live in Harlan County. The records list an address for Anthony Jenkins in Partridge, which is nearby in Letcher County.

Pennington said the men are cousins; Mabel Ashley Jenkins, whom he called Ashley, is Anthony Jenkins' sister, and Alexis Jenkins is his wife.

Attempts to reach them or their attorneys Wednesday were not successful; Anthony Jenkins hung up when contacted by telephone.

Pennington told the Herald-Leader he once had a relationship with a male relative of Ashley and Anthony Jenkins.

Ashley Jenkins had told Pennington he shouldn't be gay, however, and had made advances toward him, said Pennington, who works part-time as a school maintenance worker.

Pennington said that Ashley Jenkins called him about a week before the attack and wanted to go out, but that he rejected her again in pointed terms, which he was told angered her. Pennington said he also had turned away advances from David Jason Jenkins, whom he called Jason.

Ashley and Alexis Jenkins came to his mobile home after dark April 4 and asked him to ride around in Cumberland, Pennington said. He decided to go because he needed cigarettes and soft drinks, and gas prices were high.

There were two men in the front seat of a Chevrolet pickup outside. The women said the two were their boyfriends, Pennington said. The men were wearing caps pulled low, so he couldn't see who they were when he and Ashley Jenkins got in the back seat, Pennington said.

He said he recognized Jason Jenkins as they drove toward Kingdom Come State Park, at Cumberland, and he began asking to get out of the truck, but they wouldn't let him.

Jason Jenkins began telling Pennington in graphic terms that he planned to sexually assault him, Pennington said.

Pennington said he couldn't get out by himself because the back door couldn't be opened with the front door closed.

He said he was shaking with fear as they drove up the mountain to Kentucky's highest state park, then out the paved Little Shepherd Trail.

When they stopped, the men pulled Pennington out of the truck, threw him to the ground and began stomping his head, legs, arms and back with their heavy boots and punching him while the two women yelled things such as "Kill that faggot," Pennington said.

"My head would hit the road and I would just see bright flashes of light," said Pennington, wiping away tears.

Pennington said he lost consciousness.

When he awoke, curled in a ball on the ground, he heard Anthony Jenkins talking about finding a tire iron in the truck, and Jason Jenkins telling Ashley Jenkins she would have to help throw Pennington over the mountain when they were done, Pennington said.

Thinking the assailants planned to kill him, Pennington decided to jump over the side of the mountain near the trail, not knowing whether it was a drop of 10 feet or 50 feet. He gathered his strength and ran.

"I was going to be dead one way or another, so I jumped," Pennington said.

He hit the ground quickly and ran down the hillside; he hid behind a boulder when he heard the -others coming after him.

His attackers eventually stopped looking for him, and he heard the truck pull away. Pennington said he was wet, cold and in pain, but he hid in the woods for about 45 minutes to make sure they were gone.

His ankle was badly sprained, but he hobbled up the hill and made his way to the ranger station at the park. No one was there.

Pennington said he got into a maintenance truck to wait for help. When no one came after about two hours, he broke out a window at the station and used the telephone to call 911 and his family.

When police and the ambulance arrived, boot prints were visible on his face, Pennington said. One of his ears was torn and bloody, he was badly bruised, he had a torn ligament in his shoulder, and there was gravel from the road embedded in his head, he said.

Pennington identified the alleged attackers, and police rounded them up.

Sheriff's deputy Matt Cope, the investigating officer, said in a criminal complaint that Ashley and Alexis Jenkins lured Pennington into the truck and spurred on the two men during the assault.

Anthony Jenkins admitted to beating Pennington, and others in the truck told police that Jason Jenkins also beat Pennington, Cope said in citations.

Pennington said the attack haunts him: He has nightmares and wakes up drenched in sweat, and he has been in counseling.

"I'm constantly looking over my shoulder," he said.

Read more:

Group wants feds to investigate an alleged hate crime


The Kentucky Equality Federation, an advocacy group for equal treatment of all citizens, has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate another alleged hate crime in Harlan County. The alleged incident occurred in April. It has been alleged, in previous reports, that two men and two women took Kevin Pennington to Kingdom Come State Park, and there, they severely beat him. The four was indicted the following month. Both Anthony Jenkins and David Jenkins have been charged with attempted murder. The two women, Mable and Alexis Jenkins, have been charged with complicity to attempted murder.

In a press release, the Federation described the incident as “an unprovoked attack on a gay man” that was motivated by hate or intolerance toward sexual minorities. The group has forwarded a report of the alleged hate crime to U.S. Department of Justice, and it also renewed its request that the Department intervene under newly federal hate crimes legislation.

Last month, the federation issued a hate crime complaint to the Department of Justice, following an alleged hate crime incident in Pathfork involving two women that allegedly were attacked by several men during a Fourth of July celebration. In that filing, the federation said “because judges as well as the county and Commonwealth Attorney are elected to office, [they] must keep the bulk of the population happy with their service to the Commonwealth or they risk not being re-elected to office and taking a stand to protect victims of hate crimes, especially members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex community is politically dangerous to them, thus, justice rarely prevails.” The federation therefore requested that the justice department move this and other hate crime cases in the area to federal court where neither prosecutors nor judges are elected to office.

“We will continue to monitor the conduct of everyone involved and will report any indifference to enforce the laws of this Commonwealth both to the Justice Department as well as the Judicial Conduct Commission,” said federation president Jordan Palmer, in a statement.

Read more: The Harlan Daily Enterprise - Group wants feds to investigate an alleged hate crime

September 2, 2011

Fairness Ordinance Hits Rural Wall

The Commonwealth
Fairness Ordinance Hits Rural Wall
By: Jacalyn Carfagno, WEKU News

In part one WEKU reported on the experiences and challenges for young people growing up gay in Kentucky. In part two, she examines the complex and sometimes acrimonious debate over fairness ordinances. They’re designed to protect Kentuckians from discrimination based on sexual preference or identity.

Jeff Osborne, who’s pastor of the Berea Evangelistic Church, speaks for many rural Kentuckians.

"Well, there’s no question in my mind that homosexuality is wrong. Why? Well, the Bible teaches, both Old and New Testament, that homosexuality is a sin."

According to U.S. Census figures, there are really two Kentuckys. There’s rural Kentucky where very few gay couples are found. Then, there’s urban Kentucky where people are much more willing to identify themselves as same-sex couples. Communities like Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky recorded more than 10 same sex couples per thousand. The statewide average is just under seven couples.

Anecdotally, discrimination against sexual orientation is more common in rural Kentucky. For example, over the summer in Hazard, two gay men were ejected from a public swimming pool. In Harlan County, a lesbian couple reports they were beaten because of their sexual orientation.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said city government in Hazard, which has a history of tolerance, reacted quickly to the discrimination, but the story isn't the same everywhere.

"You travel outside of Hazard to Harlan or Hindman or Jackson, which is in Breathitt County, it's a completely different attitude. Gay people are beaten, they're openly and blatantly terminated because of their sexual orientation."

Hoping to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, several communities have turned to fairness ordinances. They’ve been enacted in the urban centers of Louisville, Lexington and Covington. But, similar ordinances in relatively-rural Berea and Richmond have stalled.

Given the stalemate in rural Kentucky, proponents shifted their efforts to Frankfort. Palmer says a state law fashioned after a fairness ordinance would ensure all Kentuckians enjoy the same protections. Plus, he says only the state can effectively enforce the law.

So, the Kentucky Equality Federation is pushing to add sexual identity to the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, which has authority throughout the Commonwealth.

"it protects smokers from being fired from a job but not because of sexual orientation or gender identity. That agency is heavily funded and they're the ones that need jurisdiction over sexual identity to be effective,” Palmer said.

But, political opposition remains strong. In 2004 three-quarters of voting Kentuckians drew the line at same-sex marriage, voting in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban it. The opposition dominated many rural counties, where nearly 90 percent of those people casting ballots voted to ban gay marriage, a practice that was already illegal in the Commonwealth.

Since that time, according to Palmer, even the local fairness ordinances have come under attack in Frankfort.

"The Kentucky House has tried three, four times to revoke the authority of municipalities to pass equality laws…." He thinks this is likely to happen again in the next legislative session because of publicity surrounding the effort in Berea.

Berea minister Jeff Osborne, speaks for many people who see the fairness ordinance as a violation of their property rights.

"My main concern is the loss of freedom myself, the loss of my freedoms. I believe that as a property owner I should have rights to say what should go on or shouldn’t go on on my property."

Nevertheless, the political and economic pressures on landlords and lawmakers continue to grow. Census figures again indicate Kentucky was among the states with the largest increase in same-sex couples. As the number of openly gay people grows, so does their political and economic power…ensuring the debate over discrimination based on sexual orientation is not over in Kentucky.

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