BETHEL PARK, Pa. — Federal prosecutors have added a hate crime charge against a Pennsylvania man, already awaiting trial on state charges, saying he used anti-Muslim slurs and physically attacked an Indian American man while drunk at a restaurant, according to an AP report.
Fifty-four-year-old Jeffrey Burgess, of Bethel Heights, would face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of targeting someone with violence based on their ethnicity or perceived ethnicity.
He told WTAE-TV before his arraignment Mar. 17 that "it was the alcohol" and said he feels remorse for what happened.
Authorities say Burgess was at a Red Robin restaurant in November when he began insulting an Indian American man sitting next to him. Authorities say Burgess repeatedly elbowed Ankur Mehta in the head. Mehta is not Muslim.
According to WTAE-TV, Mehta was working on his tablet with his earbuds in and failed to notice Burgess taunting him and using racial and ethnic epithets, the station reported.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song for the Western District of Pennsylvania announced the indictment, reported PTI.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Burgess was quoted by witnesses as saying, "I don’t want you sitting next to me...you people," in addition to his anti-Muslim racial slurs.
Witnesses told police Burgess struck Mehta four or five times and called him a "(expletive) Muslim," according a criminal complaint filed by Bethel Park police.
Mehta was treated at St. Clair Hospital for a laceration to the upper lip and a loose tooth.
In addition to the slurs, Burgess told Mehta "things are different now," police said, which authorities believe was a reference to the election of Donald Trump.
If convicted, aside from Burgess facing a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years of prison, he could also be fined $250,000 or both.
Burgess also faces state charges of ethnic intimidation, public drunkenness and simple assault stemming from the same incident.
A non-jury trial has been scheduled in his case for May 1 in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas, online records indicate, reported PennLive.
“A lot of people feel this was racism in action,” Safdar Khwaja, with the Council on American Islamic Relations, said, according to a KDKA report last December.
The indictment of Burgess comes amid a series of suspected hate crime cases targeting Indian Americans.
On Feb. 22, Indian Americans Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani were shot at a bar in Olathe, Kansas, by a man shouting "get out of my country.” Kuchibhotla, 32, later died at a hospital.
On March 3, a Sikh American was shot and injured in Kent, Wash., by a gunman who reportedly told him to "go back to your own country."
— With AP and PTI reports