Crime

Retiree dies after push to the ground by serial vagrant

Tom Lang, left, and Steve Dutton were photographed in 2005 in their condominium on the 24th floor of The Tower in downtown Fort Worth.
Tom Lang, left, and Steve Dutton were photographed in 2005 in their condominium on the 24th floor of The Tower in downtown Fort Worth. Star-Telegram File

The husband of a prominent retired Fort Worth chief executive died Saturday, three days after being pushed to the ground in downtown Miami by a homeless man upset that his picture was being taken.

Thomas Lang Jr. and Stephen Dutton were walking on Flagler Street a few blocks from their Biscayne Boulevard apartment the morning of Sept. 7 when Lang snapped a few pictures of Evans Celestin, a homeless man across the street whom the couple said they’d seen repeatedly hassling residents and store patrons.

That’s when, Dutton told police, Celestin, 38, charged across the road and shoved Lang, 71, who fell and smashed his head on the pavement. Bleeding from his ears, Lang was taken to the hospital, where he spent the next three days with little brain activity. He died Saturday.

Dutton told police that he and Lang often saw Celestin “asking for money and causing disturbances,” and said the men wanted to pass the photos along to the proper authorities.

Dutton and another witness pointed out Celestin to police when they arrived. Celestin, well-known to officers in the downtown corridor, was arrested and charged with battery and drug possession. The charge was upgraded to second-degree murder on Sunday, with no bond.

Celestin, though, was on police radar long before his fatal encounter with Lang. Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show Celestin has been arrested at least 29 times by various law enforcement agencies in South Florida, mostly on minor charges such as trespassing and drug possession. There were some battery charges and one retail theft. Most of the charges were dropped.

Lang’s husband, Dutton, 68, led an organization called Samaritan House of Fort Worth for 20 years. The nonprofit offers housing for people living with AIDS. The couple retired in 2012 and moved to Miami.

The LGBT news website Dallas Voice reported that a memorial service for Lang would take place in Fort Worth in late October.

The homeless issue in Miami’s downtown corridor has been a perplexing one for almost two decades. In 1998, a landmark settlement was reached in Pottinger v. Miami in which 5,000 homeless people and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city, contending that the police practice of sweeping them off the streets and dumping their belongings for loitering, sleeping on sidewalks or other minor offenses was unconstitutional.

Some of those privileges were overturned when in 2014 the court took another look at Pottinger and determined the new demographics of the region made some of the rules, like the right to urinate in certain places in public, antiquated.

A year later, with restaurants in the Flagler Street area now commonplace and after a downtown business group created a “poop map” to outline how the homeless were scaring away store and restaurant visitors, the city spent $500,000 on portable toilets. The city says the program is a big success.

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