The apparently drunken man captured on video assaulting an airline passenger while shouting antigay slurs at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on Thursday has been charged with disorderly conduct and simple assault. Police have not yet announced an intent to pursue hate-crime charges.
The alleged assailant is 27-year-old McCleish Christmas Benham of Shelbyville, Tenn., reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Benham faces Class-C misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and simple assault, which each carry a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time.
On Friday, cellphone video allegedly showing Benham assaulting an airline passenger he thought was gay went viral, with numerous accolades directed at the airport bystanders who tackled the intoxicated Benham until police arrived to take the man into custody. Internet sleuths who saw the video initially speculated that one of the bystanders who helped tackle Benham was actor Paul Rudd, though Rudd's publicist later debunked those claims, and by Monday, Mediaite had identified the passenger as Dallas-based brand manager Ben Kravit.
In video of the incident, Benham can be heard telling a bystander "Queers! That's what I'm upset about." Pointing to a passenger in a pink shirt, Benham says "This faggot right here," then abruptly kicks the passenger in the groin and tries to punch him in the head.
According to a police report about the incident released Tuesday and published at Lone Star Q, Benham had already punched another passenger in the eye and called him a "San Frisco faggot" when that passenger tried to intervene while Benham was allegedly verbally harassing a female gate agent. The first victim was treated on the scene for an ankle injury.
The gate agent later told police that when Benham became verbally abusive, she asked if he had been drinking. Benham allegedly replied "Yes 100 drinks."
While waiting for police assistance, the unidentified man in the pink shirt reportedly warned Benham that the police were en route — which allegedly prompted Benham to unleash a flurry of antigay slurs and launch the assault captured on video. That's when a group of passengers standing in the gate area, led by a man in a black cowboy hat, tackled Benham to the ground and held him there until police arrived.
As uniformed officers struggled to get Benham handcuffed, he can be heard making racial remarks about the officers arresting him and proclaiming that "This is America!"
Lone Star Q reports that local police have not yet indicated whether they will file hate-crime charges against Benham — though if they did, Benham could see the assault charge against him upgraded to a Class-B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail. The Texas LGBT news outlet also notes that Benham could face separate charges under the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act. However, an attorney not associated with Benham's case who spoke with Lone Star Q noted that hate crime charges can be difficult to prove when an assailant is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The Shelbyville Times-Gazette reports that Benham was arrested last year for "theft of property," and was released on $1,500 bail.
Watch video of the confrontation below, with a warning for profane, NSFW language.