A federal prosecutor angrily denied allegations that Homeland Security inspector Robert Rhodes was suspended and arrested over the summer because he is gay.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Littlefield told a judge Friday that Rhodes was suspended because the evidence shows he violently attacked a Chinese tourist at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls.
"If he is homosexual, God bless him. It's none of my business. I made the decision to prosecute this case (and) I could care less that he is homosexual," Littlefield said. "It has nothing to do with the prosecution of this case."
Littlefield spoke during legal arguments in the case of Rhodes, 43, who is accused of pepper-spraying and attacking tourist Zhao Yan, 37, at the bridge on July 21.
The legal arguments were observed by members of the Chinese community in Buffalo who have started a petition drive seeking "human rights and social justice" for Chinese who cross the Canada-U.S. border.
His attorney, Steven M. Cohen, said Rhodes denies any wrongdoing, and feels that he was singled out for prosecution because he is "openly gay." Cohen asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott to dismiss the charges against Rhodes because he is the victim of "selective prosecution" by the federal government.
If Rhodes was charged, as many as 10 other officers involved that night should also be charged, Cohen said.
"(Zhao) has repeatedly stated that she was kicked by other officers in the head," Cohen said. "Robert Rhodes is the only officer who was openly gay. He is the only officer who is being prosecuted."
Littlefield said he didn't find out that Rhodes was gay until after he had been arrested and suspended from duty.
Prosecutors have alleged that Rhodes attacked Yan because he mistakenly thought she was connected to a man who had just been caught carrying marijuana over the bridge into the United States. Yan, a Chinese businesswoman who was sightseeing at the Falls, has launched a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Rhodes and Homeland Security.
Dr. Jie Zhang, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at Buffalo State College, watched Friday's proceedings with Shengjun Yuan, president of a Chinese students association at the University at Buffalo.
Zhang said he is impressed that the U.S. government is willing to prosecute "one of its own employees."
"In other countries, that might not be possible," Zhang said. "People in China are watching this case very closely. We were upset by the silence in Buffalo."
Yuan said Chinese students at UB are concerned about the case because a number of them have been harassed at the border when traveling between the United States and Canada.
Scott reserved decision on Cohen's request to dismiss the charges.