A Sweetwater man has been charged with a hate crime for allegedly beating down a woman and her transgender friend in a confrontation that witnesses say arose when the woman stuck up for herself upon being catcalled after an LGBTQ party.
Daiken Fernandez was arrested on two counts of felony battery over the November 26 incident, which sent the two women to Jackson Memorial Hospital with severe head injuries. Fernandez received a hate crime enhancement that prosecutors use for offenses allegedly motivated by prejudice against sexual orientation or gender.
Fernandez, 25, was booked into Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on the evening of Wednesday, December 27, and remained in the jail as of early Thursday morning.
LGBTQ communities in South Florida and beyond were rattled by video that captured part of the incident, including the moment where Fernandez allegedly decked the transgender woman, who was wearing a white dress and high heels. In the aftermath, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, “These acts warrant a full investigation.”
Witness Kaci Melendez says her close friend, the trans victim, is still shaken by the encounter and left Florida for the holidays to distance herself from the trauma.
“She can’t even do all the things she wanted to do for Christmas and New Year’s because she’s freaking out thinking about how these guys live near her,” Melendez tells New Times.
The first assault victim told the catcaller that she was with her wife and that his comments were out of line. In the argument that followed, he insisted they would never receive a good “dicking” because they are lesbians, Melendez said.
The police report states that Fernandez then turned violent and punched the first victim after she made a comment suggesting he had a “small penis.” She hit her head on the concrete and was left splayed out on the ground, with blood spouting from her head.
A fight then broke out between Fernandez and a man from the victim’s group, who was sticking up for the injured woman and trying to prevent the assailant from leaving the area, the report states. During the tussle, Fernandez and another member of his clique, Jorge Estevez, punched and injured the transgender woman. According to Melendez, the trans victim was trying to break up the fight and was not participating in the violence.
Estevez, 33, was arrested on a single charge of battery. He was booked into Turner Guilford a few hours before Fernandez. Estevez told police he was acting in self-defense once the fight broke out.
County records indicate both Fernandez and Estevez received a criminal charge enhancement under Florida’s Chapter 775.085 statute, which covers crime that “evidences prejudice based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age.” The law generally elevates an offense by one level, so that a first-degree misdemeanor would become a third-degree felony, and a third-degree felony would become a second-degree felony.
The police report indicates that when interviewed by detectives, the victims’ group of friends focused on statements made about their LGBTQ background. Fernandez allegedly made a comment about the trans victims’ genitalia after Fernandez became upset by the quip insulting his penis size.
“Officers contacted several witnesses who stated that a fight broke out with a group of males due to a verbal argument about the victims’ sexual preference,” the police report reads.
Jackson Memorial treated the first victim for a severe concussion and a laceration that required several stitches. The trans victim reportedly suffered head injuries and extensive bruising.
The Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office confirmed that the alleged assault was charged under the hate-crime statute.
Melendez says she’s been reluctant to attend LGBTQ events since the incident. She says that witnessing the assault — combined with intolerant comments she’s received in recent months and the political atmosphere stigmatizing LGBTQ people in Florida — has compelled her to move out of the state.
“You won’t catch me at pride events in Florida in the near future. I have anxiety that I’ve never felt before. I’ve never felt this concern about my personal well-being in Miami until this year. I feel like anywhere I go, where I’m open about being a lesbian, there’s hate. The haters have always been there, but now it feels like the tide has turned,” Melendez says.
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