An Ashland man who confronted four people Wednesday evening after one of them allegedly insulted him for being gay said he was attacked for standing up to them.
Christopher Johnson, 44, said suffered a dog bite, a dark red bruise near his eye from where he was punched, and throat pain from being put in a chokehold.
Johnson said he had been returning home from the gym when he walked by a public bench on Granite Street, a spot he said is a popular hangout for transients.
“Because I don’t drive, I pass them on a regular basis,” Johnson said in a telephone interview, adding he has called the police several times because of “disruptive” behavior he has witnessed.
As he passed this time, there were four people present at the bench who were playing music.
“And as they were all singing, one of them said, ‘There’s that faggot,’” Johnson said. “Something to that effect. And I said, ‘Why yes, yes I am that faggot.’”
Johnson continued on and said the people continued to hurl insults at him. He then confronted them about it.
“I’m at a point in my life and my maturity where I just don’t put up with that,” Johnson said.
One of them approached Johnson and said he would keep the group “in line” and to continue on his way. Johnson didn’t want the people to know where he lived — it was nearby — and told them he didn’t have to leave if he didn’t want to.
“That’s when they decided to come toward me threateningly,” Johnson said.
One of the group, identified by police as 21-year-old Alejandro Almirall-Nieves, allegedly threatened to strike him with a guitar.
“I continued to move around Granite Street trying to stay away from them,” Johnson said.
Another group member, who police identified as 20-year-old William James Kelso, allegedly punched Johnson in the face, leaving him with a dark red bruise near his eye, Johnson said. Kelso followed it up with a chokehold and pulled Johnson down to the ground, Johnson said. That’s when the dog bit him. He began to yell for help, and was let go, he said.
Johnson recalled standing up, and that more insults were traded, followed by a second threat from Almirall-Nieves.
“This time it seemed he was serious,” Johnson said. “He was holding the arm of his guitar, and I yanked and held onto the strings and bashed it into the head of him and the person he was standing with until they were properly bloodied.”
The police arrived shortly after, at about 6:35 p.m. In addition to the welt on his eye, Johnson said he is left with throat pain from the chokehold. He also received a precautionary tetanus shot and antibiotic because of the dog bite.
“I’ve never had an attack like this. I certainly have heard about it in the gay community,” Johnson said. “I’ve certainly never had this type of physical altercation before.”
Kelso and Almirall-Nieves are lodged in the Jackson County Jail on felony counts of third-degree assault. They also face misdemeanor charges of second-degree disorderly conduct and first-degree intimidation. Almirall-Nieves faces an additional misdemeanor charge of menacing. (Updated Nov. 6: All charges except for second-degree disorderly conduct have since been dropped, according to court records. Almirall-Nieves and Kelso are due back in court Nov. 13 following their Oct. 25 arraignment.)
Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the incident to contact Ashland police at 541-488-2111. They’re looking specifically for an unknown woman who may have witnessed the incident to come forward.
Johnson, who has lived in the Ashland area off and on since 1993, said he hopes the city will address the “problem area” where he was attacked. He suggested installation of a security camera.
“I think it’s time the city of Ashland thought long and hard about it and how it needs to be dealt with,” he said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at firstname.lastname@example.org.