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Suspect's attorney cites another motive in alleged hate beating

Nashon Minter, 19, center, and Justin Higgins, 21,

Nashon Minter, 19, center, and Justin Higgins, 21, both of Mastic, are led out of the Seventh Precinct in Shirley on Wednesday. (March 3, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

The attorney for a suspect in the alleged hate crime attack on a gay teen at a Suffolk high school said the altercation was triggered by threats made by the alleged victim against the suspect's sister.

But the lawyer for the William Floyd High School student, Jermell Dixon, 19, who police said was beaten in the attack, said the teen's sexual orientation fueled the assault.

Suspects Justin Higgins, 21, and Nashon Minter, 19, both of Mastic, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of felony assault as a hate crime in connection with Tuesday's altercation. Police said they spotted Dixon near a school entrance, stormed past security officers, and chased Dixon down school hallways.

Dixon was beaten by the two men, said police, adding that they yelled out anti-gay slurs during the assault.

Higgins' attorney, Jamie Rosner of Patchogue, said Higgins and Minter beat Dixon because they were angry he'd threatened and teased Higgins' 14-year-old sister, a student at the school.

"He wasn't targeted because he's gay," Rosner said. "He was targeted because he threatened to punch this little girl repeatedly in the face."

Rosner said he didn't know what slurs, if any, were uttered, but that such insults "are shouted in fights all the time."

Dixon's attorney, Kenneth Mollins of Melville, acknowledged there was "bad blood" between Dixon and Higgins' sister but that the alleged slurs showed that gay bias was a significant factor. "The fact that he was gay caused the fight to be much worse," Mollins said, referring to Dixon.

Higgins' relatives said Dixon threatened Higgins' sister the previous week. The girl was also in a fistfight with Dixon's younger female cousin, another William Floyd student, at school Tuesday, said Superintendent Paul Casciano.

Higgins' sister was being suspended for her role in the fight when a school official called her mother, Ericka Hill, to pick her up Tuesday morning, officials said.

Shortly before 10 a.m., Hill, Higgins, Minter and another person arrived at the school's visitor entrance. Casciano said school security was still checking the group in when Higgins and Minter spotted Dixon and "bolted" after him.

The pair caught Dixon, kicking and beating him in a hallway, officials said. The attack was broken up by security guards and teachers. Dixon's eye required stitches.

At arraignment in a Central Islip court Wednesday, a Suffolk prosecutor said both called Dixon a slur before and after the attack. They were held on $50,000 bail. Minter was represented by a legal aide attorney.

Mollins said the two men arrived at the school on Friday looking to beat up Dixon, but were unable to get in and said the school should have avoided calling his family to the school. School security was not aware of any such incident, Casciano said Wednesday.

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