No, this wasn't the product of a febrile imagination but what Halloween revelers in 2012 watched unfold at the outdoor costume party at Georgie's Alibi in Wilton Manors. The collision between the two colorful characters has left one man facing a felony charge and questioning the actions of law enforcement.
Boyd Corbin was underneath the white hood, his costume a provocative jab at bigots. According to his account, on the evening of the bar's epic annual Halloween rager, he'd arrived bearing a large cross and the flaming tiki. But as Corbin got closer to the stage where the costume contest was unraveling, one of the event's MCs — a Dame Edna Everage impersonator named Michael Walters — told him to put out the torch.
The exchange between the two ended in a scuffle. When Walters left the stage, his wig was ripped off. Finally, security broke the pair apart. Corbin went on his way, thinking little of the incident. It wasn't until days later, when his neighbor told him Wilton Manors Police had been to his house, that he realized it might be more serious. What emerged were two sides of the same story.
According to police records, four hours after the incident, Walters went to police claiming he'd been "pulled from the stage by a patron" and "now his knee is hurting him." In later interviews with police, he explained that "he was in fear of being caught on fire from the flame due to the fact that he had a flammable costume and hair spray on." Corbin refused to extinguish the torch, Walters claimed, and jabbed at the drag queen with the lit tiki.
Corbin begged to differ in an email to police shortly after the incident. "[Walters] didn't like my costume," he wrote. "I ducked three punches to my face... I pushed him with one arm, and he fell down... He got up and tried to kick me in the balls.
"I heard that Michael is telling people I hurt him," he continued. "I did not. He hurt himself when he fell down after losing his balance kicking me."
Despite the fact that the case was a he-said/he-said, Corbin was arrested and charged — not with battery, a misdemeanor, but with felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the "deadly weapon" being the flaming tiki torch. If convicted, he is looking at serious jail time.
But Corbin maintained it was a mutual dust-up, not a one-sided assault. He began going to Wilton Manors City Commission meetings to complain about how he was being railroaded. That's when, in early 2013, someone came up to him and asked if he'd talked to Paula Tyer. "Who's Paula Tyer?" Corbin thought.
After the South Florida Gay News published a story on the fight in November, a Wilton Manors resident named Paula Tyer approached police to give a statement on December 19. She swore in a police deposition that she didn't know Corbin or Walters personally but said when she read about Corbin having been arrested, "I felt that I had responsibility to come and tell you what I saw."
Tyer challenged Walters' account that the Klansman was the aggressor. She said Corbin did not ("absolutely not") jab the torch at Dame Edna. She said the drag queen wasn't pulled from the stage ("He eased his way down to a sitting position and then pushed his own self off"). And, she said, Walters was the aggressor ("I heard [Walters] yell, 'Do you know how much that damn wig cost!?' And after he said that... he took his hands, formed fists, and he started throwing punches at Corbin").
The Tyer testimony was key for Corbin — possible exculpatory evidence. But no one had told him about it until the meeting. Police and prosecutors had never provided the statement to the accused, he says.
When the State Attorney's Office presented its discovery in February 2013, the witness' statement from December 2012 wasn't included. Corbin confirmed with Wilton Manors PD that the statement had been taken and handed to prosecutors but says he couldn't get a copy of the key evidence until March 2014.
By then, Corbin had burned through multiple lawyers and declined a misdemeanor plea deal. He began showing up at City Commission meetings to complain about police and even went to the FBI. An internal investigation conducted by the city manager found the Tyer deposition had been turned over in January 2013. Why wasn't it provided to the accused until 2014?
"We've attempted in every possible means to cooperate with Mr. Corbin," says a vexed Chief Paul O'Connell. "It might have gotten lost in the shuffle. Our position here is we took a police report, we did an investigation, and presented it to the State Attorney's Office. They felt there was a reasonable likelihood of conviction with all the evidence, including Paula Tyer's statement. How the statement got lost? It could have been the defense attorneys that lost it. It could have been the state attorney. All I know is that we dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's."