Second alleged assailant of gay inmate identified

Justin O’Brien, an inmate at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia, was named by the government last week as the alleged initiator of last year’s brutal assault on fellow inmate Kenneth Houck.

O’Brien’s alleged role in the assault was detailed in a Dec. 12 motion filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that opposes bail for Kevin Hannig — another man who allegedly participated in the assault.

On Nov. 10, 2011, Houck was reading a gay novel in his cell at the center when O’Brien and Hannig allegedly beat Houck and stomped on and kicked his leg, breaking it.

“Less than one minute after entering Houck’s cell, O’Brien came out of the cell and motioned for Hannig,” the motion states. “Hannig and O’Brien then entered Houck’s cell together. They kicked, punched and stomped on Houck’s leg, breaking it.”

Advocates for Houck have expressed concern that O’Brien hasn’t been indicted for his role in the alleged assault.

“If there’s some type of plea bargain going on, we should be informed of that,” said David Cooper, an advocate for Houck. “I can’t serve effectively as Kenny’s advocate if I don’t have accurate information.”

Cooper said Houck continues to recover from his injuries at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C.

At the time of the Houck incident, O’Brien, 25, was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to robbing three banks in Philadelphia.

Hannig was detained at the center because he violated terms of supervised release stemming from an unrelated bank-robbery conviction.

On Dec. 6, attorneys for Hannig filed a motion seeking his release on bail pending his Jan. 22 jury trial for the Houck incident.

But last week, the motion was withdrawn.

W. Christopher Montoya, an attorney for Hannig, couldn’t be reached for comment. Hannig, 35, faces up to 10 years in federal lock-up if found guilty of assaulting Houck.

According to federal law, assaults motivated by anti-LGBT animus on federal property may be prosecuted as hate crimes, thus increasing penalties for perpetrators.

Cooper said the alleged assault against Houck should be prosecuted as a hate crime, because O’Brien and Hannig targeted Houck on the basis of his sexual orientation.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this was a hate crime,” Cooper said. “It shouldn’t be plea-bargained away. I’m concerned that the government isn’t prosecuting these characters to the fullest extent of the law.”

He said both men allegedly hurled anti-LGBT slurs at Houck during the incident.

Patricia Hartman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, declined to comment about the case.

“We cannot provide any further details, or comment at this time, beyond the publicly filed documents,” Hartman said in an email.

In March 2011, O’Brien allegedly stole a total of $3,185 from three banks in Northeast Philadelphia.

According to court records, O’Brien has negotiated a plea agreement with the government for those crimes, but the details of the agreement are under court seal.

The plea agreement must be approved by U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois before it can be implemented.

O’Brien’s attorney, Paul J. Hetznecker, declined to comment for this story.

O’Brien’s sentencing is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. Jan. 23 in Courtroom 12-B of the U.S. Court House, 601 Market St.

Hannig’s jury trial for the Houck incident is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 22 in Courtroom 14-B of the U.S. Court House, with U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn presiding.

At the time of his alleged assault, Houck, 37, was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to one count of transporting child pornography.

In February, U.S. District Judge Gregory M. Sleet sentenced Houck to 97 months in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release. Houck’s projected release date is March 3, 2018, if he doesn’t commit any infractions while in custody.

Cooper said Houck has undergone surgery to avoid amputation of his leg, and he continues to suffer physically, mentally and emotionally due to the alleged assault.