San Francisco Bay Area law enforcement officials have opened a hate crime investigation into the killing of a black musician who was beaten, robbed and shot to death by a group of white men outside of a bar earlier this month, according to local reports Tuesday.
The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s department said Will Sims, 28, was attacked by three white men outside of a pool hall close to his home in Richmond, California on Nov. 12, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday.
Daniel Porter-Kelly was arrested and charged with robbery and murder with a hate crime enhancement on Nov. 16. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. Investigators were still searching for Ray Simons and Daniel Ortega, suspects who are both considered to be armed and dangerous.
Porter-Kelly, 31, who had a clean criminal record, was being held without bail, but his attorney denied his involvement in the killing. Colin Cooper said county prosecutors hadn’t disclosed any details about the investigation into his client that constitutes the hate crime accusation, the Washington Post reported Monday.
“It’s baffling to me. If you’re going to charge some young kid with murder and a hate crime, the Constitution and due process require that the prosecutors tell somebody what it is based on,” Cooper told the Washington Post. “Mr. Porter-Kelly has nothing to do with this.”
Derek Butts, a Contra Costa County homicide prosecutor, said details about the case supporting the hate crime or homicide accusations hadn’t been released in the wake of the two suspects remaining at large.
A construction worker who was friends with the three suspects and sometimes offered them employment opportunities told the San Francisco Chronicle he “would never expect that type of behavior out of them.” The three suspects frequently went to the pool hall where the incident occurred after work, Anthony Rayford said.
“Every time they’ve worked with me and for me, I’ve never had any trouble with any of them. Always on time and hard workers. ... It’s hard for me to swallow that they would be charged for this,” Rayford, 39, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Sims, who worked as a retail clerk and had a clean criminal record, was lauded by his friends and family members after being collectively shocked and shaken by his killing. People close to him, including his sister, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Sims was a gentle, peaceful and generous man.
“He was a very kind and loving person,” Stacy Simms, 33, who lived with her brother in a suburban home with their parents, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “He loved music. He loved making friends. He was the best brother a sister could ever have. It’s been very difficult. It still seems unreal.”
African-Americans are the largest ethnic group in Richmond, California, making up 36 percent of the population, according to the most recent Bay Area Census data. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said Sims was targeted because of the color of his skin, but advised community members to show restraint in an attempt to quell the uptick in racially motivated hate crimes since the 2016 election.
“I urge Richmond residents to maintain our city’s values of respect and care for one another, especially during a time when we are experiencing a nationwide surge in hate-filled hostility and threats to public safety,” Butt told the Washington Post. “Racism, bigotry, discrimination, and all other forms of hatred and oppression have no place in our city.”
There have been more than 700 incidents of physical harassment and intimidation throughout the U.S. since Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, the Southern Law Center reported Nov. 18.