Attacked while waiting at a red light last month, an East Bay Sikh man believes he was the victim of a hate crime and targeted because he wears a turban.
Lawyers for Maan Singh Khalsa, 41, of Richmond, said he was driving home from work via Hilltop Drive at around 8:50 p.m. on Sept. 25 at the time of the assault.
Three men, traveling in the back seat of a white, four-door truck, threw a half-full beer can at Khalsa, while he idled at a light at Blume and Hilltop drives. The can hit Khalsa's door and fell onto the ground. According to a police report, Khalsa opened his door, picked up the can, and threw it back at the passengers, saying, "You forgot something."
However, Harsimran Kaur, Khalsa's lawyer, said he did not throw the beer can pack at the men.
The trio responded by yelling and cursing, but the light turned green and Khalsa drove forward, the report said. At the next light on the Highway 80 overpass, Khalsa called 911 when he realized the truck was following him. As he waited at this second light, the three men climbed out of their vehicle and accosted Khalsa through his car window.
“They were beating his face mercilessly,” said Kaur, the Sikh Coalition's legal director. “His turban got knocked off and they yelled, ‘Cut his f***ing hair!’ and one of them cut his hair with a knife.”
The police report, however, says the men attempted to cut Khalsa's hair when he raised his hand to defend himself. That's when the suspects' knife cut Khalsa's pinky finger. When Khalsa tried to flee from the men, they began following the vehicle on foot while the truck driver tried to block Khalsa in, the report said.
Khalsa made a U-turn, traveling in the wrong direction on the on-ramp, and sped to a gas station. The police report says Khalsa admitted that he was "blacking out" after having been pummeled in the face repeatedly.
"I saw Khalsa had a moderate amount of blood on his clothing and had his right pinky finger covered in bandages," Officer Joseph English wrote in the police report. "I also saw Khalsa's left side of his face was swollen. Khalsa was unable to open his left eye, due to the swelling."
The report also states that Khalsa believes he was targeted because the trio mistook his turban as an indication that he is Muslim.
The Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies arrested Chase Byron Little, 31, of Texas, and Dustin Micheal Albarado, 25, of Louisiana, on the scene of the attack. The third suspect escaped, police said.
“We want and we are looking for justice,” said Kulwant Singh of the El Sobrante Sikh Center, where Khalsa prays.
Members of the Sikh community are outraged, stressing that turbans and uncut hair are articles of faith. Many were at a wedding celebration Friday afternoon, but took time out to talk to NBC Bay Area about their concerns.
“[Forcefully] cutting the hair is very serious – very, very serious,” Darshen Singh Mundy said. “This is not a road rage incident. This is a hate crime.”
According to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office, the attack is being investigated as a hate crime.
Khalsa and other Sikhs deserve to have their own identity, Kaur said, noting, “We are human beings. We must show respect for each other.”
Little and Albarado are out-of-state contractors working at the Chevron Richmond Refinery. They were arrested on felony assault charges. It is unclear whether they are still in jail or have been let out on bail.
Prosecutors plan to re-interview Khalsa next week to get to the bottom of certain discrepancies between the police report and his lawyer's allegations. District Attorney Mark Peterson will then decide whether to charge Little and Albarado with hate crimes.