Charles William Davis II enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1999. He deployed to Bosnia in 2000, Iraq in 2004, and Afghanistan in 2007 and 2009. It took until his fifth deployment, back to Afghanistan in 2012, following the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, that he was able to openly fight his country’s wars as a gay man.
Along the way, Davis proved his mettle. He earned three Bronze Stars for his exemplary service as a senior intelligence sergeant. But none of that mattered to his attackers, just before the New Year in El Paso, who just saw a gay man they wanted to punish for being unapologetically who he is.
Davis has the full-throated, unambiguous support of his entire chain of command, from his fellow senior enlisted soldiers to his commanding officer, and all the way up to division headquarters. But he can’t shake the awful suspicion that the men who gay-bashed him are soldiers as well.
During the early morning hours of Dec. 31, near the Fort Bliss base where 1st Sgt. Davis currently serves, Davis and a fellow soldier—a straight friend whom he identified only as Julio—were having drinks with friends at El Paso’s Rockin’ Cigar Bar & Grill. It was a normal Saturday night out that turned into an early Sunday morning. Davis made no secret of who he is: “I’m an openly gay guy. When I meet people, that’s the first thing I tell them, because I don’t want them to be taken aback.” No one at the bar gave them any trouble, and they stayed until last call.
After the bar closed up, Davis and Julio wandered into a nearby parking lot to wait for an Uber to take them back to Fort Bliss. They encountered four men—“I can’t really remember how it started,” Davis said—and it quickly got heated. “They started calling me ‘f--got,’” Davis said. Curse words flew quickly, with Davis telling them to “go the fuck along” while he and Julio waited for their car.
The four men, Davis said, got into their maroon, late-model Japanese-looking car. He could see them drive a whole two blocks before idling on the side of the road.
Almost immediately afterward, two other strangers—one black, one Hispanic—approached Davis and Julio, asking them, “What happened—those guys talking shit?” It seemed like the men were expressing concern. Davis, who is black, said to the black man, “Yeah, n--ga, I’m just trying to get home.” But then, “the black guy goes, ‘N--ga?’ and takes offense. It struck me as odd that he’s pissed off,” Davis said.
The man got close to Davis and then punched him in the face. His companion started throwing punches, too. Pretty soon they had both Davis and Julio on the ground, and the stomping began.
Immediately, Davis heard the maroon car’s engine rev. The four men from before pulled up, jumped out, and removed any doubt that the two men were friends with the earlier slur-hurlers. It was six on two. And the six, Davis suspects, were also servicemembers. “I’ve never seen these people before,” Davis told The Daily Beast. But from “how they looked, their demeanor, their haircuts, the way they carried themselves, the way they dressed… I just think they were were possibly military.”
Davis started pulling some of the other men down in self-defense. But the numbers overwhelmed him and his friend. “They were saying ‘f--got,’ ‘Call me a n--ga again, f--got,’” he recalled.
Through the kicks and the punches, Davis saw something that changed the stakes of a brutal situation dramatically. One of the men, as best he can tell, was holding what looked like a gun. He was screaming, “What, motherfucker, what?” Davis remembered “pleading with him, ‘Don’t shoot us, oh my God, please don’t fucking kill us.’”
The attack might have escalated had an intercession not occurred. A nearby woman yelled out, “What are you guys doing?” At least one of the men knew her. All six of them quickly ran to the maroon car and they drove off.
Police and paramedics arrived. Both men were in a bad way. Julio, who had a pre-existing back condition, was carried off on a stretcher. He spent the next several days in an intensive-care unit.
Davis had a busted lip, a broken nose, a bruised wrist and he was bleeding from the back of his head. He lost one of his earrings in the attack and his ear was swollen. He told police he was jumped “because they didn’t like the fact I was gay,” something he would later reiterate to a detective, and informed them he wanted to press charges.
The police report from the incident, however, is checked “no” on the section “suspect hate/bias motivated.” The detective investigating the attack did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Davis didn’t admit himself to the hospital. He says he probably should have, but he just wanted to go home. The woman who witnessed the assault got him back to base. He immediately alerted his chain of command about the incident and they checked in on him “two minutes after I got home.”
Davis is the first sergeant of Delta Company, 16th Engineer Battalion—the Catamounts, they’re called—1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. While Davis has served in units with officers who have expressed a problem with his homosexuality, his fellow soldiers and the officers at Bliss have stood squarely behind him. (“The 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss is committed to working with civilian law enforcement to ensure that this assault perpetrated against one of our soldiers is fully investigated and those responsible are brought to justice,” the 1st Armored Division a statement to The Daily Beast.) The battalion commander called him personally; the brigade commander visited him in person and expressed his hope that the police catch Davis’ assailants.
Another first sergeant in the battalion, Jeremy Kilgore, called Davis “a great leader, he’s a great person.” He said there were accounts circulating around the battalion recently about an increase in soldiers getting jumped, but wasn’t sure it was connected to the attack on Davis. He also didn’t know what to make of Davis thinking his attackers were also military: “Soldiers are soldiers. I guess they can recognize another soldier a lot easier than someone who isn’t.”
Outside of Davis’ suspicions and observations, there is no additional evidence as yet that his attackers were soldiers. But in a statement to The Daily Beast, Davis’ commanding officer, Capt. Matt Chase, referenced the gay-bashing as contrary to Army values.
“First, defamation or assault of anyone based on sexual orientation is wrong. Second, it is completely against the Army’s values. Third, when a situation like this occurs, we ensure the victims—in this case 1SG Davis—have access to services to help them recover,” Chase said.
For his part, Davis is worried about his friend Julio. He’s alarmed that soldiers might have been the ones attacking him, but, as the three Bronze Stars he earned suggest, is otherwise unintimidated.
“No asshole can cause me to change my demeanor and who the fuck I am,” Davis said.
“What I want most of anything for people to know is that there are assholes who do that to stifle you, to quiet you down and show their dismay at who you are. Don’t allow these fucking assholes to do that to you.”