ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — At a place where managers, employees and patrons pride themselves on acceptance and love, a message of hate was left before the sun came up Saturday.
"We just have a lot of fun here on this property so to read those words on our window, it really made me upset," said Melvin Theriault, the director of operations at Cocktail, a gay bar on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.
Theriault said a customer noticed the vandalism on the front window the following day. A homophobic phrase, including a derogatory slur, was written in what appeared to be a permanent marker. Managers at the bar contacted police and handed over the images caught on surveillance video.
The man seen on video was identified Tuesday afternoon as 57-year-old William Yacko, according to department spokesperson Ashley Limardo. Jail records show he was booked on Monday, March 13, in the Pinellas County Jail on unrelated criminal mischief charges.
He will face an additional charge of felony criminal mischief with a hate speech enhancement because of the homophobic comments, Limardo added.
Police earlier said they would investigate what they called a bias-based crime at Cocktail
"We'll collect the evidence, try and identify a suspect, locate him, if there’s enough evidence, charge him with the actual vandalism," said Major Markus Hughes, the LGBTQ liaison with the St. Petersburg Police Department.
According to police, once an arrest is made and more facts are determined, elevating the incident to a hate crime could be a consideration.
Hughes is the first LGBTQ liaison with the department. As an out, gay police officer, he took on the role in 2014.
"It can be demoralizing because you feel like you can go wherever you can now, it seems much more free, as a community, not just in St. Pete but Florida in general so when something like this happens, you take it personally," Hughes said.
As for the staff at Cocktail, Theriault said they were eager to scrub off the marker and move on.
"We’re going to find out who this individual is. He will be prosecuted, you have to let it go, you can’t carry those things with you. It’s hate, ignorance, and it’s not something I’m going to let live in my heart," Theriault said.
According to the FBI's brand new 2021 report, hate crimes showed an 11.6% increase from 2020. In 2020, the FBI's detailed look at Florida showed 60 percent of hate crimes targeted race, ethnicity, or ancestry followed by sexual orientation at 22 percent.
If you know anything about who the person is in the surveillance images, people can contact the St. Petersburg Police Department at 727-893-7780.