A man confronted a transgender woman and used slurs about her gender identity before attacking her last week in downtown Charleston, police said Tuesday after initially denying that bias was an element of the crime.
The Charleston Police Department first released information about the assault Friday in a public statement that said the victim — who was punched and knocked unconscious Aug. 19 near an Ann Street nightclub — "wasn't assaulted because she's a transgender." An incident report did not specify a motive for the assault, nor did it mention the verbal confrontation that preceded the attack.
Police released an additional statement about the unsolved assault Tuesday, saying a follow-up investigation revealed that the victim had been confronted about her gender identity before the attack.
Charleston police had not reported a hate crime to the FBI since 2015, when nine people were killed in the race-motivated mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church, according to the most recent data available. That year, the city also saw two other crimes with a racial bias and one hate crime sparked by a victim's sexual orientation, FBI data showed.
Described in the incident report as a 34-year-old Goose Creek resident, the victim in the recent episode was leaving some King Street bars about 2 a.m. that Sunday when she and two people with her got into a confrontation with a man who was outside Deco Nightclub at 28 Ann St., police said.
The report said the man kicked the transgender woman's sister in the stomach after they got off an elevator in the Charleston Visitor Center parking garage. When the transgender woman went to defend her sister, the police said, the man punched her in the left side of her head, knocking her out.
The attacker ran away through the parking garage toward Mary Street.
The victim was lying face down and bleeding on Ann Street when an officer got to the scene. She regained consciousness shortly after and was transported to Medical University Hospital.
There have been no arrests.
Deco Nightclub, near where the attacker encountered the woman, came under fire earlier this summer after online commenters accused employees of barring entry to patrons because of their race. The uproar prompted the club to fire workers who violated policies or were not respectful to customers.
Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis said the department's initial statement about the woman's assault not being bias-motivated was based on the incident report written by the responding officer, who did not speak to the victim about the attack. A detective interviewed the woman at the hospital later that day.
Investigators have since obtained surveillance video that showed the confrontation.
Chase Glenn, executive director of the Charleston-based advocacy group Alliance for Full Acceptance, said the victim is recovering and returned to work Tuesday.
"She obviously is shaken up by this, understandably," he said.
Glenn contacted police officials after learning of the incident from a social media post Thursday. He said his organization is working with authorities and the victim to ensure the assault is investigated thoroughly so that others aren't hesitant to come forward in the future.
"We know that instances like this unfortunately instill the climate of fear that exists within the transgender community ... and contributes to their resistance to reporting instances of violence," he said. "We hope to create visibility for this issue."