Designer Who Was Assaulted at Fashion Show Aims to Take a Public Stance

Five years after the independent fashion designer Pol’ Atteu was assaulted during a Make-A-Wish Foundation fashion show in Los Angeles, his assailant’s sentencing has prompted Atteu to take a more public stance to fight hate crimes.

Jesus Rodolfo Zepeda beat the designer in September 2019 at St. John’s Cathedral, and Zepeda was sentenced last month to five years in state prison but was only required to serve four days in a county jail due to other stipulations. The sentencing included a 10-year restraining order. But he received credit for time served and the remainder was credited for time already served, barring any further offenses. Referring to last month’s sentencing, Atteu said Monday, “It was very difficult being in the courtroom with him being there. This wasn’t the first time I had seen him [in court], because I had had to testify multiple times.”

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Having been beaten and sworn at for his gender identity, the designer said having the act recognized by the court as a hate crime was essential. California law defines a hate crime as a criminal act or credible threat of violence against a person or group of people in which the victims are targeted because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or disability.

Atteu said he was intent on proving that “this was not just a brutal beating, but something that was very thought-out, and [a matter of] hating someone they did not know because I am gay.” Atteu said he chose to take the case to trial during an interview Monday.  He also wanted to make sure that the offense counted as “a second strike” for Zepeda, who has committed another illegal act, which was not a hate crime, Atteu said.

“I feel that everyone before us in the LGBQT+ community has fought so hard to get acknowledgment and to have the community be recognized. I thought if I did not go through with this with the vigor that I did, there would be no way that I could live with myself, knowing that I would have let the entire community down,” Atteu said. “Being part of that community makes me who I am.”

His husband Patrik Simpson, who appears with him on the Amazon Prime reality show “Gown and Out in Beverly Hills” and who witnessed the attack, said, “It is shocking to me that in 2024 we still have hate crimes and people who are not comfortable with or do not accept LGBQT+. It’s crazy town. Crazy town.”

John Padilla Yutan, an attorney for Zepeda, said that Zepeda had taken responsibility for his actions and had acknowledged the impact of his behavior to Atteu and on society.

Atteu suggested tougher laws for hate crimes and that he “had to go the distance” in court “for everyone who would come after him,” to set the record straight. As “a well-known gay couple,” he and Simpson will be working with GLAAD, the West Hollywood Gay and Lesbian Community Center and the Advocate to bring attention to this issue. “We want to create a coalition where we can support and help individuals who have gone through this and may not have the resources or platforms to have their voices heard. We want to be a sounding board, a safe haven and a platform, where we could fight to get people to realize this is something that happens day in and day out, especially in this community,” said Atteu.

In 2022 in the U.S., there were 11,288 single-bias incidents that involved 13,2787 victims, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of that total, 17.2 percent was attributed to sexual orientation. In California that same year, there were 1,495 hate crimes against people of which nearly 19 percent was due to sexual orientation. That total figure was a 66.1 percent increase compared to 2021.

Simpson said, “If telling Pol’s story means that one person who was in a hate crime can come forward, be brave and have the courage to tell their story to the police and to follow through with prosecution, then I’m happy that we’re coming forward.”

With Season Five of “Gown and Out in Beverly Hills” due out at the end of this summer, the pair plans to work the verdict and resolution into the narrative. They also headline the weekly podcast “Undressed with Pol’ and Patrik” with a different celebrity guest that is available on Apple, Spotify and YouTube. Atteu and Simpson handle the weekly “Runway Rundown” segment on Jeff Lewis’ “Extended” show on Radio Andy Sirius XM.

The designer said Monday that he had first seen the assailant, who was later identified as Zepeda, during auditions for the show in his Beverly Hills flagship. Atteu said Zepeda was there under false pretenses, pretending to be a modeling agent. “His entire disposition was very uncomfortable so he was escorted away from the premises,” he said.

Zepeda later showed up at the fashion show and falsely acted as if his 9-year-old daughter was part of it, according to the couple. At that time, the designer had a collaboration with the Disney star Ava Kolker and had enlisted the children of other celebrities to walk in the show, according to Simpson. When Atteu recognized Zepeda in the hair and makeup room, he had him escorted out. Zepeda snuck back onto the property, hid behind the bushes in the cathedral’s courtyard, and attacked him from behind, Atteu said Monday.

He and Simpson were also taping “Gown and Out in Beverly Hills,” during the show. Therefore, there were about 550 people including a production crew, as well as models and runway show guests like the producer George Tillman Jr. Simpson said that he saw Atteu being beaten and called a “’fu#*ing fa*#ot’ over and over again,” but was unable to get to him due to a blocked entryway,  Simpson said. About 12 of the swimsuit-clad models were lined up and within earshot of the screaming, a few were knocked over, and others tried to stop Zepeda when he fled, according to the couple. A hired security guard was on the scene, but had taken a bathroom break without notifying anyone. Atteu was hospitalized for two-and-a-half days with a concussion, an injured shoulder and severe bruising, He said he still feels “the intensity of the blow” on the back of his head that started the attack. Reached on the set of “The Bay,” the Peacock series that he handles the wardrobes for, Atteu said that he now always positions himself so that no one can “sneak up behind him.”

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