Man Changes Plea to Guilty in Hate Crime Attack on Syrian Teen

Adrian Vergara, 26, pleaded guilty to assault with an added hate crime allegation

A man arrested and charged for a hate crime attack of a teenage Syrian refugee aboard a trolley pleaded guilty Monday.

Adrian Vergara, 26, pleaded guilty to assault with the likelihood of "great bodily injury."

The plea deal included a hate crime allegation as well as the admission to a prior strike for robbery and vehicle theft for which Vergara was on felony probation, according to District Attorney spokesperson Steve Walker.

Vergara previously pleaded not guilty on Oct. 24.

Vergara was arrested on Oct. 22 for an unrelated misdemeanor charge involving narcotics, and investigators recognized him as a suspect in the Oct. 15 attack on the teenager, San Diego police said. 

On Oct. 15, a teenager said he was riding the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) trolley on his way home from school. He was speaking Arabic on the phone when the attack happened, according to the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA), a non-profit that supports refugees.

“He was speaking to a friend in Arabic when the defendant ripped out his ear phone and asked him, 'What trash are you speaking?'” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Vergara then hit the teen five to six times in the face.

Suspect pleads not guilty to assault against teen Syrian refugee on MTS trolley. NBC 7's Melissa Adan has more.

San Diego police told NBC 7 a surveillance video from cameras onboard the trolley confirmed the teen's allegations.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of San Diego said they were disappointed no one stood up for the teen during the attack.

“One of the most upsetting things for me in hearing about this story is that no one was an ally for this young man, no one stood up for him. That’s what we need to do, we need to stand up and help each other. That’s the most important thing we can do,”said Tammy Gillies, San Diego Regional Director of the ADL.

Vergara was previously arrested for robbery and vehicle theft and was already on a felony probation when he was arrested.

Vergara will be sentenced on Dec. 5 to five years in custody under the terms of the plea agreement.

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