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Suspect arrested in PULSE Memorial arson

Arson investigators and detectives from the Orlando Police Department did not indicate that the act was a hate crime

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PULSE Memorial, Orlando, Florida (Photo Courtesy of onePULSE Foundation)

ORLANDO – Investigators with the Orlando Fire Department’s arson investigations unit announced this week that a suspect was arrested who was seen on surveillance video setting fire to parts of the memorial to the 49 victims of the June 12, 2016 massacre at the former nightclub’s location this past October.

The suspect was identified as 64-year-old Mark Anthony Henson and according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department website, he is facing one charge of felony criminal mischief.

In its Facebook page two weeks ago the onePULSE Foundation wrote; “On October 12 around 8:30 p.m. EST, an individual damaged our offering wall. Three Angel banners were burned along with other items within the affected area. If you know this individual (watch from minute 2:30), please call the OPD information line at 407-246-2470 and reference case number 2021-003-693-96.

Arson investigators and detectives from the Orlando Police Department did not indicate that the act was a hate crime nor did they release further information that detailed how they developed Henson as the primary suspect.

Mark Henson mugshot (Screenshot via WFTV ABC9 Orlando, Florida)

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Florida

‘Beloved’ 24 year-old Trans hairdresser murdered in Jacksonville, Florida

Her death marks at least the second violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year, less than a week into 2022

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24-year-old Duval Princess  (Photo via Instagram)

JACKSONVILLE – Police are actively investigating the shooting death of 24-year-old Duval Princess found unresponsive in a car at the Highland Square shopping center on Dunn Avenue in Jacksonville earlier this month.

Identified by police and family members in local media reports by her pre-transitioning name and gender, she was a well-known hairstylist specializing in wigs and weaves who was active in the LGBTQ+ community. According to friends who knew her, Princess was in the early stages of transitioning and identified as transgender. 

An aunt, Raschel Campbell, told Jacksonville’s CBS affiliate WJAX-TV News; “There’s nobody who did not know Duval Princess.”

WJAX reported: “Security video given to Action News Jax from a nearby business shows someone waiting at the corner of a business that morning. The car we are told Robinson is in pulls up, the person goes to the driver side window first, then walks to the passenger side door.

They appear to have a conversation and then again, the person goes back to the driver side. Shortly after, it appears as if the person hops into the passenger seat. Roughly 10 minutes go by and then there’s a flash, which we opted not to show. Moments later the person is seen running away.”

Family members told the station that according to messages, she was meeting up with someone known to her.

“I have never known a pain like this and we just want answers,” Campbell said. “This was a senseless act of violence, it was a hate crime.”

Police are asking anyone with further information is asked to contact investigators or call Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.

On social media, friends, family and clients of Princess are sharing fond memories of their times with her, noting that she was beloved, with one client sharing that she was “so sweet and genuine.” Another said there was “never a dull moment when we linked.”

The Human Rights Campaign noted:

“Her death marks at least the second violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year, less than a week into 2022. We say “at least ” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported, as is the case of Princess. She was repeatedly misgendered and deadnamed in several media reports.”

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Florida

Prominent Florida LGBTQ+ activist’s body found in landfill dump

Diaz-Johnston was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz & he led the fight for marriage equality

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Photo courtesy of Don Diaz Johnston

TALLAHASSEE, FL — Police in Florida’s capital city confirmed that the body of Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, who had been reported missing was found in a Jackson County landfill Saturday morning.

Diaz-Johnston was last seen alive Jan. 3 in Tallahassee, more than an hour from where his body was found, according to a missing person notice released by police. Detectives are investigating his death as a homicide, a police spokesperson said.

Diaz-Johnston, was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. As an LGBTQ advocate he led the fight for marriage equality, he and his husband were plaintiffs in an historic 2014 lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County.

ABC News reported at the time that a South Florida circuit court judge sided with Diaz-Johnston and five couples suing the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Florida dropped its ban on same-sex marriage in 2015.

His husband wrote in a poignant Facebook post; “There are just no words for the loss of my beloved husband Jorge Isaias Diaz-Johnston. I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So I am fighting through the tears to share with you our loss of him.”

“We are heartbroken to learn of the death of Jorge. He and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiffs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped win marriage equality for all Floridians,” Equality Florida said adding, “Our deepest condolences to Don and Jorge’s extended family.”

Detectives urge anyone who may have information to call 850-891-4200, or make an anonymous tip to Big Bend Crime Stoppers at 850-574-TIPS.

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Florida bill could close hate crime loophole

The law lets prosecutors pursue hate crime charges when a crime involves defacing properties owned by local governments or organizations

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Screenshot via WPTV NBC 5 News

TALLAHASSEE – Two Florida lawmakers are working to close a loophole in the state’s hate crime law that allowed a man who vandalized gay Pride display in Delray Beach, Florida, to avoid such charges over the summer. 

State Sen. Tina Polsky (D) and State Rep. Emily Slosberg (D) sponsored bills, H.B. 883 in the House and S.B. 1208 in the Senate, earlier this month that would let prosecutors pursue hate crime charges when such a crime involves defacing properties owned by local governments or organizations.

Over the summer, 20-year-old Alexander Jerich was accused of using his vehicle to leave tire marks across a gay Pride mural in Delray Beach. Jerich – who was participating in a parade celebrating former President Donald Trump’s birthday, according to court documents – turned himself in after the incident was caught in a viral video

Jerich was charged with criminal mischief over $1,000 and reckless driving, but not a hate crime. He is currently awaiting trial and could face up to six years in prison if convicted – he would have faced a possibility of 20 with hate crime enhancements. 

In a press release voicing support for the bill, Florida State Attorney Dave Aronberg referenced the case, which “did not meet the existing standard for hate crime penalties because the city itself was the victim – not an individual.” 

Under the proposals, “local governments for the first time can be considered victims of crimes of prejudice,” according to Aronberg.

“This important bill will close a glaring loophole in state law that allows defendants to avoid hate crime charges even though their actions were motived by prejudice,” Aronberg said. “This bill gives prosecutors the tools needed to hold fully accountable those who harm our community with hateful conduct.”

Malik Leigh, an attorney and former law teacher, told the Sun Sentinel that even if the bill passes the Republican-controlled legislature and is signed by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, it’s unclear if the bill would stand up to a legal challenge.

“You’d have to ask him his mindset and charge based on that, and so that would make it subjective,” he said. “In many cases, you can charge a crime like murder if someone commits a murder, but you can’t always guess their mindset.”

Polsky said she was “proud” to sponsor the bill in a tweet. 

“Hate has no place anywhere,” she said.

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