A savage hate crime at the University of Iowa that sent shockwaves across campus turned out to be just another hoax, police said Tuesday.
The case of Marcus Owens caused a deluge of outrage when it first emerged in early May. Owens claimed on the night of April 30 he was attacked, out of nowhere and without provocation, by three white college-age men, who beat him bloody while screaming racial slurs and landed him in the hospital.
Activist students claimed the attack showed a climate of racial hatred in Iowa City, and they also denounced the university for taking until May 4 to issue a statement about the matter.
“How many black students must be a victim of a hate crime before an alert is sent out,” one student complained online at the time.
But after a two-week investigation, Iowa City police have concluded, after interviewing witnesses and viewing surveillance footage, that no hate crime occurred at all, and that Owens’ account of his injuries was almost completely false.
In Owens’ account, he arrived at the Eden Lounge, an Iowa City bar, around 9 p.m., stepped out for a phone call around 10 p.m., and was then attacked.
But footage, which was released by police, shows a very different series of events. The footage shows Owens entered the bar close to midnight, and then getting involved in a massive bar melee around 1:35 a.m. He was kicked out of the bar, and then proceeded to get in two additional fights within the next 10 minutes. In all of the fights Owens is acting aggressively and throwing punches, and police say he appears to have been the instigator in at least one of the fights.
While at least one participant in the fighting does seem to have yelled a racial slur, that’s not enough to justify a hate crime charge, police said.
Owens initially walked off his injuries, but later went to the hospital to have them treated. On Monday night, he created his story of an unprovoked racial attack.
Owens and his family have issued an apology, blaming his actions on a mixture of alcohol and embarrassment.
“Marcus now knows that his account of events was inconsistent with police findings, in part due to alcohol being involved, his embarrassment at his behavior, as well as the injuries he sustained,” the family’s statement says. “In light of this, it was concluded that this incident was not a hate crime as originally believed, but rather a case of excessive underage drinking and extremely poor judgment on the part of many people, Marcus included.”
Police say that thanks to the apology, they will not file a false reporting charge, even though the evidence supports one.
Owens isn’t the first college student in 2016 to try spinning a run-of-the-mill fight as a violent hate crime. Three University at Albany students claimed they were attacked by a white mob on a bus in January, only to have police conclude they were the actual aggressors. Those students have been kicked out of school and hit with an array of criminal charges.
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