Contra Costa County prosecutors have charged two men in connection with the brutal attack in Richmond last month of a member of the East Bay's large Sikh community.
The district attorney's office filed felony assault charges with hate crime enhancements against Chase Little of Beaumont, Texas, and Colton Leblanc of Winnie, Texas, on Friday.
Authorities say the two men attacked Maan Singh Khalsa near Hilltop Mall on Sept. 25. They allegedly threw beer at Khalsa's car and assaulted him through his open car window.
The men allegedly knocked off Khalsa's turban and cut a fistful of his hair from his head. He sustained a swollen black eye, damaged teeth and knife wounds to his left hand, authorities said.
Prosecutors add that one knife wound caused nerve damage and required stitches. Because of an infection from that wound, one of his fingers will be amputated at the first knuckle.
"The District Attorney's Office has concluded that Mr. Khalsa's actual or perceived race/ethnicity, religion and nationality was a substantial factor in the vicious assault," said Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Simon O'Connell in a statement.
"The savage cutting of Mr. Khalsa's unshorn hair, a sacred article of his faith, constitutes a hate crime under the law," O'Connell said.
Another man who was previously named in the attack, Dustin Albarado, has been cleared of criminal liability and will not be charged, O'Connell said. Prosecutors do not believe he was involved in the physical assault.
On the heels of the assault, Little and Albarado were fired from their jobs as contract refinery employees at a company tied to Koch Industries.
A representative for Koch Communications revealed Friday that Leblanc was also an employee of Koch Specialty Plant Services and has been fired as well.
The men were in the area working on a project for the Chevron refinery.
Despite Albarado not being charged in the incident, he is still out of a job, said Koch Communications spokesman Rob Carlton in an email. Carlton, though, would not comment further.
Investigators say Khalsa was alone in his car stopped at a red light on Hilltop Road when a pickup truck pulled up next to him. There were five people in the truck and beer cans were thrown at Khalsa's car, the district attorney's office said.
A driver in another car then called 911 to report the conduct of the men in the truck. The light turned green and both Khalsa's car and the truck drove forward. At that point, Khalsa was concerned about the harassment and called 911 from his cellphone.
At the next intersection two men in the truck ran toward Khalsa's car and then repeatedly punched him.
"Mr. Khalsa’s turban was displaced during the barrage of punches and the assailants proceeded to pull Mr. Khalsa by the hair. While yelling obscenities, the assailants forced Mr. Khalsa’s head down and cut a significant portion of his unshorn hair," O'Connell said.
Prosecutors say portions of the attack were overheard and recorded by a California Highway Patrol dispatcher who was trying to find Khalsa's location.
According to O'Connell, Albarado and two other men drove away. Moments later Albarado decided to go back toward the scene.
At around the same time, a Contra Costa sheriff's deputy found Little with blood on his body. After Albarado showed up by Little's side, the two men were arrested, O'Connell said.
Little is out on bail and has a court date scheduled for Nov. 21. A bench warrant will be issued for Leblanc.
The district attorney's actions prompted praise from the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy organization that has been calling for hate crime charges to be filed.
"It was clear that bias was a motivating factor in the brutal assault against Mr. Khalsa so we are thrilled that these charges were filed," said Harsimran Kaur, the organization's legal director, in an interview Friday morning.
The group will follow the case aggressively, Kaur said.
"We'll absolutely be watching as the prosecution occurs," she said. "This is the start. We want to make sure that these men are not only charged with a hate crime, but ultimately are convicted or take a guilty plea."
Kaur emphasizes that the purpose of filing hate crime enhancements is not to impose a harsher penalty, but to acknowledge that Sikh people are still being targeted.
"We can't combat the problem of hatred in our society if we don't recognize it for what it is," Kaur said.
In a statement, Rep. Mark DeSaulnier said: “I join the people of Richmond and the Sikh community in expressing my deep concern over the attack on Mr. Khalsa. Acts of discrimination and hatred have no place in our society, and no member of our community should ever fear for their safety because of their religion or culture. I am pleased the District Attorney’s office has filed hate crime charges and is seeking justice for Mr. Khalsa, and upholding the values of the people of Richmond."
Read the charges below.