A 50-year-old man who directed homophobic and racist slurs at two gay men sitting outside a Portland bakery, and then attacked one of them, was sentenced to 15 days in jail and three years of probation.
Don Kirchhoff is believed to be the first person convicted under Oregon’s new bias crime law, which increases the penalty for some hate crimes to a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The law took effect on July 15.
According to prosecutors, on Sept. 1, Kirchhoff had walked up to two gay men sitting on a bench outside Lovejoy Bakers in Portland and began shouting anti-gay epithets at them.
The two men were friends, but did not know Kirchhoff prior to the incident. Kirchhoff also called one of the men, who was African-American, a racist slur.
Kirchhoff then grabbed the white man and threw him against a brick wall, causing him to suffer a laceration to his head and abrasions to his neck and back.
The two men tried to get away, but Kirchhoff chased them, tugging on of their shirts, until one of the men punched him, reports The Oregonian.
“These are very disturbing crimes that caused quite the ripple effect in the community,” Multnomah County Deputy District attorney BJ Park said, adding that he hopes Kirchhoff “understands the amount of hurt he caused not just to the victims, but to the community.”
Kirchhoff’s defense attorney, Peyton Lee, told Multnomah County Circuit Judge Gregory Silver that her client was “severely intoxicated” during the altercation and doesn’t remember it.
She noted that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time serving in Operation Desert Storm. She added that Kirchhoff had moved to Portland from Michigan to be close to his son, but his son was killed in an unsolved murder, and Kirchhoff has turned to alcohol to cope.
On Friday, Oct. 18, Kirchhoff pleaded no contest to a charge of “bias crime in the first degree,” meaning he accepts punishment for the crime but does not admit guilt.
During sentencing, Silver told the defendant that he and others who act like him are the reason a significant number of people haven’t come out as LGBTQ.
“They’re afraid if they let that be known, that somebody is going to attack them for who they are,” Silver said. “…That’s why there is this crime of the ‘bias crime.’ And that cannot continue to happen.”
Kirchhoff was also sentenced to 30 days in jail for an unrelated case in which he choked his romantic partner after she changed the channel on the television in the apartment they shared.
Although Kirchhoff had already spent more than 45 days in jail since his arrest in the bias case, and would normally be released immediately, Silver ordered him to stay in jail until Monday so he could be fitted for an alcohol-monitoring bracelet that will alert authorities if he violates his probation by drinking.
If he violates his probation within the next three years, he could face additional jail time.
As part of his release, Kirchhoff must be evaluated for drug and alcohol addiction and undergo treatment, if ordered. He must also stay away from his victims and Lovejoy Bakers. Kirchhoff claims he plans to better himself.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said in court. “I know I have a lot to prove to other folks besides the court, that’s my goal. To move toward a cleaner path.”