Two Suspects in Richmond Attack on Sikh Man Fired From Refinery Jobs

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Update: October 14, 2016

Contra Costa County prosecutors have just filed hate crime charges against two men in connection with the brutal attack in Richmond last month against a member of the East Bay's Sikh community.

Police say Chase Little and Colton Leblanc beat Maan Singh Khalsa near the Hilltop Mall on Sept. 25.

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The two men arrested in connection with a brutal attack against a 41-year-old member of the East Bay's large Sikh community have lost their jobs as contract refinery employees at a company tied to Koch Industries.

Police say Chase Little, 31, and Dustin Albarado, 25, beat Maan Singh Khalsa repeatedly, knocked off his turban and cut a fistful of hair from his head near Hilltop Mall on Sept. 25.

The Sikh Coalition, a civil rights group, is calling on the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office to prosecute the attack as a hate crime. Prosecutors are expected to make a charging decision in the case as early as Wednesday.

Maan Singh Khalsa, Richmond resident, was attacked by three men in Richmond on Sept. 25.
Maan Singh Khalsa, Richmond resident, was attacked by three men in Richmond on Sept. 25. (The Sikh Coalition)

Efforts to reach the suspects and lawyers who have represented them in the past were unsuccessful.

A representative for Chevron confirmed that the two men had been in the region, doing contract work for the oil company's Richmond refinery.

"Chevron regrets this very unfortunate incident and does not tolerate this type of behavior of its employees or contractors," said company spokeswoman Leah Casey. "Chevron will ensure the individuals committing these alleged acts are suspended from entering the refinery under any other employer."

Little and Albarado worked for Koch Specialty Plant Services, a firm that specializes in the repair and maintenance of distillation towers in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. The company is affiliated with Koch Industries, the multinational company run by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarian brothers who helped create a number of nonprofit groups that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political causes in recent years.

A spokesman for Koch Communications said the men have been fired.

"Koch Specialty Plant Services does not tolerate this type of behavior and is appalled by the reported actions," said Rob Carlton. "Although this incident took place outside of the workplace, the employees involved have been terminated and we are cooperating with the investigation of this matter."

Carlton would not comment on what specific work the men were doing in Richmond.

The two men were arrested on suspicion of felony assault and were released on bail. Little is from Beaumont, Texas, and Albarado is from Ponchatoula, Louisiana.

On Sunday Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said the city was shocked by the attack.

"We understand the pain, anger and fear this crime has caused for the victim and the Sikh community," Butt said in a statement. "No one should have to experience the fear of being targeted or attacked based on their identity or for practicing their religion. I regret that this violence has penetrated our community."

Khalsa, an IT worker and father, was driving on Hilltop Mall Drive when a man in a truck threw a beer can at his car, according to the Sikh Coalition. At a nearby intersection, three men got out of the truck and assaulted Khalsa through his open car window.

After knocking off his Sikh turban and hitting his face repeatedly, they allegedly shouted "cut his hair," pulled his head out of the window and cut a fistful of his hair with a knife. He sustained injuries to his fingers, hands, eye and teeth.

An article of the Sikh faith is to keep unshorn hair. When a Sikh person's hair is cut, it denies that person the right to practice their faith, according to Harsimran Kaur, legal director for the Sikh Coalition.

"The attackers caused physical injuries and deep harm when they targeted my Sikh faith," Khalsa said in a statement issued by the coalition. "I urge a thorough investigation so we can address the tide of violence and bigotry in this country."

The organization sent a letter to Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown and Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson, urging that they investigate and prosecute the incident as a hate crime.

"Mr. Khalsa was attacked and it was completely unprovoked," said Kaur in an interview.

She said it's the latest in a series of attacks against Sikh-Americans in the last several years.

"For a lot of people the only association they have with a turban is Osama Bin Laden or seeing pictures of al-Qaida, so there's this association of a turban with terrorism ... with being other," Kaur said. "But sometimes Sikhs are simply targeted because of xenophobia ... or just a lack of understanding.

"People just perceive them to not be a part of the fabric of this country, which is extremely sad given that Sikhs have been in the United States for over 125 years," Kaur said.

KQED's Peter Jon Shuler contributed to this report.