RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA (NYTIMES) - Two men in California were charged with hate crimes on Friday (Oct 15) in connection with an attack on a Sikh man, punching him in the face and using a knife to cut up to 10 inches of his hair, which was unshorn by religious mandate, a prosecutor said.
The attack, which unfolded over the span of about three minutes and a half-mile stretch of road in Richmond, California, on Sept 25, started by chance, officials said.
Five men who were doing subcontracting work at a refinery were staying at a local hotel and had been drinking beer most of the day when they went to get something to eat, Mr Simon O'Connell, a deputy district attorney with the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office, said in an interview on Friday.
The men were in a pickup around 8.45pm when they pulled up to a red traffic light next to a sedan driven by Mr Maan S. Khalsa, 41, of Richmond. In what Mr O'Connell said was an unprovoked act, the occupants threw beer cans at Mr Khalsa's car. When he rolled down his window and said, "You guys forgot something," the men, angered by his remark, followed him to the next red light.
Two of the men - identified as Chase B. Little, 31, of Beaumont, Texas, and Colton T. Leblanc, 24, of Winnie, Texas - ran to Mr Khalsa's car and repeatedly punched him in the face through the open driver's window, officials said.
A turban Mr Khalsa was wearing as part of his Sikh religion was disturbed in the attack, during which the men forced his head down and cut up to 10 inches of his hair with a knife, prosecutors said.
"The savage cutting of Khalsa's unshorn hair, a sacred article of his faith, constitutes a hate crime under the law," the prosecutor's office said in a news release.
Little, who was taken into custody at the scene, was charged with assault and released that night on bail. He is to appear in court on Nov 21. A warrant for Leblanc, who left the scene, has been issued, officials said. The other occupants of the pickup were not charged.
Little and Leblanc were both charged with assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury and assault with a deadly weapon, with the "special allegation" that they were committed as hate crimes. With that enhancement, they could face a maximum of 11 years in prison, Mr O'Connell said.
It was not clear if Little had a lawyer, and neither man could be reached to comment on Friday.
In a statement released through the Sikh Coalition, Mr Khalsa said he was "violently targeted" because of his faith. "The charges are the first step to addressing violence and bigotry, which plague communities across the United States," he said.
Mr Khalsa, an information technology specialist, had a black eye, numerous damaged teeth and several knife wounds to his left hand. His little finger will be amputated at the first knuckle because of an infection from the knife wound, officials said.