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Alleged political hate crime not what it seemed

BY DREW PHILP

Published October 1, 2006

Despite a national whirlwind of speculation, political finger-pointing and a nasty black eye, police said rumors surrounding the assault of an Oakland University student who woke up beaten and bruised in Ann Arbor on the night of Sept. 23 are false.

Angela Cesere
Justin Zatkoff, executive director of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans, said he does not remember who gave him this black eye and other injuries on Sept. 23. (BEN SIMON/Daily)

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Ann Arbor police said Justin Zatkoff, the executive director of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans, was not attacked by "liberal thugs," as posted on the conservative blog truthcaucus.com.

Zatkoff's injuries included a broken eye socket, nose and nasal cavity. He was admitted to the emergency room the morning after the assault and had surgery six days later.

Zatkoff told police the next morning that he could not remember what happened the previous night.

Last Wednesday, Truth Caucus posted pictures of a disfigured Zatkoff under the headline "Hate Crime: College Republican Allegedly Beaten By Liberal Thugs."

The post cited a source close to Zatkoff who said he may have been attacked by members of the pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary or a gay rights group. The story attracted national attention and was soon picked up by other sites like Wonkette.com, a Washington gossip blog, and dailykos.com, a well-known liberal blog.

Last Thursday, Don Carlson, state chair of the Michigan College Republicans, issued a statement urging students to "Keep (Justin) in your prayers" during his surgery and to "Travel in groups when possible, especially until the elections are over."

Carlson also included a link to the post on truthcaucus.com alleging that it was liberals who had beaten Zatkoff.

The police report tells a much different story.

Police said Zatkoff received his puffy purple left eye during a fight with a high school friend.

Zatkoff was at a friend's party on the 1100 block of White Street on Sept. 23 when he engaged in what the police report called "horseplay" with a friend. Fueled by alcohol, Zatkoff was belligerent.

"When Zatkoff drinks, he gets a little out of control," the report quoted one of Zatkoff's friends. "At this particular party Zatkoff was being obnoxious."

Another one of Zatkoff's friends eventually admitted to police that it was he - not a gang of angry liberals - who punched Zatkoff.

After learning of the friend's confession, Carlson said his statement had not been politically motivated.

"I wanted people to be warned of it and be careful," he said. "That's just good advice."

Rob Scott, chair of the Michigan College Republicans, said it is an unfortunate situation and he is glad no one was attacked for their personal beliefs on politics.

"It sounds like a lot of people who didn't know the full story started talking about this and it got blown out of proportion," Scott said. "It's the importance of real journalism over blogging, I guess."


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