Hate Crime Enhancements Filed in Attack on Sikh Cabdriver

Hate Crime Enhancements Filed in Attack on Sikh Cabdriver

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 Two men were arrested Dec. 2 in West Sacramento, Calif., on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and committing a hate crime, in the Nov. 28 attack of cab driver Harbhajan Singh.

Pedro Antonio Ramirez, 41, and Johnny Morales, 33, were arraigned Dec. 7 at Yolo County Superior Court and formally charged with felony assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury; threats to commit a crime resulting in great bodily injury; two hate crime enhancements; and an infliction of great bodily injury enhancement.

Both suspects pleaded not guilty. Bail was set at $190,000 for Ramirez and $110,000 for Morales. Both are due back in court on Dec. 14, to determine the date for a preliminary hearing.

Ramirez and Morales were charged with making criminal threats because they allegedly threatened to kill Singh during the attack, Yolo County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven told India-West.

Raven confirmed that the FBI is investigating the brutal beating, which left the 56-year-old father of four with bruising along his rib cage, a broken nose, and eye and head injuries which required seven stitches to his head. Singh told India-West he may also be suffering from chest injuries. Results of an x-ray taken late last week were not available at press time.

Ramirez and Morales allegedly yelled “f*&k you Arabian, f*^k you, Osama bin Laden,” during the several-minute attack, which left Singh unconscious (IW, Dec. 3).

“I was so scared for my life, I thought they would kill me,” said Singh, adding that he will not be returning to taxi driving after he recovers from the attack.

Lt. Tod Sockman of the West Sacramento Police Department told India-West that the two suspects beat Singh with their fists, which is considered a deadly weapon in this incident. Ramirez is considered the primary aggressor, said Sockman, adding that the extent of Morales’s involvement will be determined during the trial.

The suspects turned themselves in Dec. 2 after a five-day manhunt. Two additional passengers, both women, have been located and interviewed, but not charged. One woman was oblivious to the attack, possibly because of intoxication, while the other attempted to defend Singh from the attackers, said Sockman.

Attorney Patrick McCarthy, who is representing Ramirez, told India-West he believed the hate crime enhancements were “overblown and non-existent.”

“These people are not politically inclined. They are not the kind of people who would do this sort of thing,” he asserted.

McCarthy, who got Ramirez and Morales to surrender to police last week, said media reports and press interviews with Singh have yielded much conflicting information.

Ramirez is a union carpenter and Morales has worked as a caretaker for the United Methodist Church, said McCarthy.

Singh told India-West last week that he initially thought the attack was a robbery attempt, and attempted to hand the suspects $40, which was allegedly thrown back at him.

A dispute over the fare could also possibly have motivated the attack, which could then not be prosecuted as a hate crime, even though racial epithets may have been shouted during the beating.
“For the hate crime enhancements to stick, the prosecutor must prove that there was no explanation other than pure anger of how this man looked,” Veena Dubal, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, told India-West.

Dubal said she wanted to see the verdict for Ramirez and Morales attempt to address the systemic issues underlying hate crimes and hoped psychological counseling and community service within the Sikh community would be part of the suspects’ sentencing.

Several members of the community expressed cautious optimism that hate crime enhancements had been added, which could add one to four years to Ramirez’ and Morales’ sentences, but worried whether the enhancements would remain as the case progressed.

“A great majority of criminal law cases are resolved by plea bargain and hate crime enhancements are the first to get negotiated away,” Mukesh Advani, founding and former president of the South Asian Bar Association, told India-West.

“It is hard to predict how this will turn out but if there is a sustained community pressure, then the DA may find it hard to bargain it away,” he said.

Former SABA-NC Civil Rights Committee chair Harmeet Dhillon said judges frequently toss out verdicts or refuse to allow cases to proceed, based on hate crime charges.

“Until the prosecutors and state court judges in California firmly apply these laws on the books, criminals will continue to terrorize and stigmatize an entire community on the basis of their faith, with impunity, in direct violation of California law,” Dhillon told India-West.

“Our community has been under attack for so long,” Jasjit Singh, associate executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told India-West.

“Cab drivers are on the frontlines of the community and exposed to everyone on the demographic scale,” he said, adding that “Turbans and beards are very visible symbols to people who may be misinformed.”

Stronger measures to protect cab drivers must be taken, asserted Singh. Taxi drivers in the region are discussing distress lights on top of a cab which can be activated quickly by drivers; a partition separating passengers from cabbies; and increased police patrols, he said.

The Sacramento Taxi Cab Association has set up a fund to support Singh and his family. Contributions can be made through Bank of America.  Bobby Singh, an official with the nearby Roseville, Calif., gurdwara, told India-West that the gurdwara’s administration was also setting up a fund for Singh and his family.