Couple Attacked After Spears Concert

Police are trying to determine whether a gay couple who had just left a Britney Spears concert were attacked and robbed by a marauding group of young people because of their sexual orientation.

But Joshua Kehoe said he and his boyfriend, whose jaw was broken in two places, have no doubt the attack on them was a bias crime.

Kehoe, 25, said he and Bobby Daniel Caldwell, 36, were walking to their car after attending the concert at the Prudential Center arena on Saturday night when they were approached by a group of about 15 youths.

“They targeted us because of who we are,” said Kehoe, who estimated the attackers’ ages at 15 to 20. “What hurts the most is that they were laughing as they started running toward us. It was a game to them. They thought it was fun.”

Both men, of neighboring Kearny, were kicked and punched by the group, Kehoe said. Caldwell lost a tooth in the attack and had to have his jaw wired shut, said Kehoe, who was bruised.

Police said gay slurs were directed at the men. However, police Director Garry McCarthy said slurs alone are not enough to prove a bias attack occurred. The determining factor is whether the attack was motivated by group bias.

“That’s the tripping point we’re working on right now,” McCarthy said.

Bias crimes are second-degree felonies that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, said prosecutors, who estimated the attackers would be unlikely to face more than five years on just the robbery and assault charges if convicted.

The group, which was still being sought Tuesday, had assaulted and robbed four women a block away before encountering the couple, police said.

The violence began with a fight at a teen party attended by more than 400 people at a comedy club near the concert arena. Police say the group that attacked Kehoe and Caldwell left that club as officers were arriving.

Newark has recorded nine homicides and 39 shootings this year, consistent with the six homicides and 39 shootings during the same period of 2008. However, the city’s resurgent downtown area has been the scene of several violent incidents in recent weeks at events frequented by young people.

Three people were shot Feb. 22 outside a rap show at the historic Robert Treat Hotel, which is a block from the comedy club, Sugar Ray’s House of Comedy.

McCarthy said the city’s municipal council is set to respond with new rules Wednesday, requiring clubs to file security plans with police three weeks before special events and prohibiting alcohol from being served when anyone under age 21 is present.

McCarthy said investigators are scrutinizing a videotape of the gay beating incident. He expressed confidence the attackers will be identified and arrested.

Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a state gay rights organization, said there’s no doubt the incident was a bias attack. He called on McCarthy to make that determination, too.

Kehoe’s father, Bruce Kehoe, of North Arlington, said he and his wife spent part of their Sunday prying their son’s gold earring away from his ear after it was bent around it by one of the kicks he received.

“It’s a shame,” he said. “They were there to have a good time, and they should be able to do that without something like this happening.”