NEW YORK CITY — An interracial couple was assaulted outside a Long Island City eatery Saturday morning and police were probing the incident as a possible hate crime, cops said.
Billie and Jacob James-Vogel had just left Billie's 40th birthday dinner at Shi, an Asian fusion restaurant on Center Boulevard, when a group of men attacked them about 1:45 a.m., the couple told DNAinfo New York.
There are conflicting reports of how the incident started; at an unrelated press conference Monday, Ray Kelly said the altercation began after one of the suspects kissed Billie James-Vogel.
But Chris Boscia, a friend who was with the couple that night, disputes this account. He says the incident began as they were leaving the restaurant with three other people they'd met at the bar.
As they stepped outside, a group of men who were parked in a car, revving its engine, yelled a homophobic slur at them, he said.
"That was the first thing that was uttered out of the car," said Boscia, who is gay. He said the man yelled it "in a really hard tone and such hatred in his voice."
That's when Jacob James-Vogel, who was behind the rest of the group, also exited the restaurant and tried to intervene, Boscia said.
"I turned to one of the guys and asked what the problem was," James-Vogel, 37, said, adding that he was then "bum rushed" by the other men, who knocked him to the ground and started hitting him.
"I instantly just started covering my face," James-Vogel said. "I don't know how many people were hitting me."
At least one of the men also yelled a racial slur at one point during the attacks, according to Boscia.
James-Vogel said he suffered a fractured bone under his eye and bruising. His wife was also thrown to the ground and sustained a broken toe and a head injury, he said.
"When I think about the slurs, the N-word and the F-word, it hurts. It hurts. It hurts," Billie James-Vogel told NY1. "It breaks my heart."
Police arrested Nikolaos Katsos, 28, and charged him with assault and harassment, an NYPD spokesman said. They are still looking for other suspects. Cops said the Hate Crimes Task Force was investigating the incident.
"I'm not certain if anyone else will be arrested at this time," Kelly said. "We're still looking at it as a possible hate crime, but it hasn't been determined as yet."
Boscia said he wasn't sure what sparked the anti-gay statements.
"I've never been involved in a situation like that," he said.
James-Vogel said he believes the attack was motivated by bias.
"I don’t know these people. This was unprovoked. Why else would they just randomly attack people?" he said.
He and his wife have lived in Long Island City for two years, he said, and have never felt threatened before.
"This is normally a safe neighborhood," James-Vogel said, but added that the incident has put them on edge.
"We're worried about walking our dog at night."