Charges filed in assault that caused social media uproar

An assault that sparked wide speculation on social media about hate crimes has resulted in an arrest.

The State College police investigation into an October assault was completed with charges filed against Matthew Ryan Chandlee, 18, of Washington Crossing, of misdemeanor simple assault and summary harassment. Chandlee is a Penn State Altoona student, according to the university.

Chandlee, according to police, was asked to leave the Sigma Nu fraternity sometime between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. Oct 4. As fraternity members escorted Chandlee from the property an argument started.

A fraternity member allegedly used a homophobic slur toward Chandlee, and another person, alleged to be the victim of the assault, was offended and tried to get others to stop using slurs, police said.

The fraternity members told Chandlee and the alleged assault victim, neither of whom were part of the fraternity, that they had to leave the property, according to police. The victim, according to the university, does not attend Penn State.

“The victim began to walk away from the fraternity and was walking toward the service road leading to Walker Building on (the) Penn State campus,” the department’s release said. “As he turned and walked away, (Chandlee) immediately started to yell at the victim, ‘what are you looking at?’or something similar.”

The alleged victim asked why Chandlee followed him.

Chandlee allegedly said, “You’re gay, I hate gays,” and punched the left side of the man’s face. The man fell and told police he was either hit a second time or struck his head on the ground when he fell.

The man contacted a friend, who took him back to Sigma Nu, where fraternity members gave him first aid.

The man told police he suffered impaired vision and pain for more than 24 hours, had a bleeding laceration above his eye and had bruising and swelling around his eye. He told police he felt pain in his eye more than a week after the alleged assault.

“In this case, as in all others, it is critical that we afford due process to the individual charged and that we not draw conclusions about guilt or innocence,” Penn State vice president for student affairs Damon Sims said in a statement. “However, broadly speaking, any violence that causes this measure of physical and emotional harm to an individual deeply harms our community, too. We must continue to do all we can to prevent such behavior and work together to promote a safe, welcoming and respectful environment for all members of our university community.”

The story stirred controversy after being circulated on social media, which Sims addressed.

“Our community's fundamental values are reflected not by any single unconscionable act, but by the countless expressions of concern that have poured forth since the act was first made public through social media,” Sims said. “The deep compassion for this victim is testimony to the goodness and decency that lie at the core of our community. It is our sincere hope that he continues to recover well.”

State College police Lt. Keith Robb said the lengthy investigation into the assault was hindered from the beginning due to the unconventional way in which it was reported. Since police learned about the attack via social media, and not through a 911 call or direct report, officers were behind on being able to get information on the incident.

“Once we were able to identify the victim and get ahold of him,” he said, “officers were able to canvass the area and find witnesses to provide the information that would lead to an arrest.”

Though the alleged assault was quickly labeled a “hate crime” on social media, Robb said police are hindered in making such charges as Pennsylvania Code 2710 does not cover sexual orientation.