Two men accused of severely beating a Sikh Indian American man last September in Richmond, Calif., and cutting off a fistful of his hair were sentenced May 18 to three years in state prison for felony assault with a hate crime enhancement.
Chase Little and Colton Leblanc, both oil refinery workers from Texas, pleaded no contest at a hearing in Contra Costa County, Calif., Superior Court. The pair had entered into a plea bargain with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office, reported the Los Angeles Times.
On the night of Sept. 25, Little and Leblanc, along with three other men from the Chevron Oil Refinery, were driving near the Hilltop Mall in Richmond. According to police reports, one man threw a beer can into the car of Maan Singh Khalsa, a resident of Richmond.
Khalsa told India-West last year – shortly after the attack – that at the next intersection, he threw the beer can back at the truck, and said to the men: “Looks like you forgot something.”
At the next intersection, according to Khalsa, Little and Leblanc got out of the truck, reached into Khalsa’s rolled-down window, and started punching him. The pair also knocked off his turban and cut off a fistful of his religiously-mandated long hair.
Khalsa received bruising and lacerations near his eye, damage to his teeth, and a cut on his pinky finger that went so deep that it had to be amputated.
“I don’t know what I did to deserve such unprovoked hatred,” Khalsa, a 41-year-old father who works as an IT specialist for the Social Security Administration, told India-West last fall.
"The attack upon Mr. Khalsa based upon his perceived religion and identity is an attack upon us all," said Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Simon O'Connell, in a statement released by the Sikh Coalition, which has advocated for Khalsa since the attack.
"As a community we must do better and it is my hope that today's sentence moves us further in that direction,” said O’Connell.
O’Connell told India-West last fall that – from the moment the DA’s office got the case – “it has always been looked at as a hate crime.”
Defense attorneys for Little and Leblanc, however, have pointed out that Khalsa himself said he did not hear either of the defendants shout racial slurs or make comments about his ethnicity or religion.
In a statement he gave in court before sentencing was pronounced, Khalsa said: “The actions of Mr. Little and Mr. Leblanc have greatly affected every facet of my life; they have transformed my day-to-day experiences and my very outlook on the world.”
“Before September 25, 2016, I was so carefree. I considered myself an American like everyone else,” said the victim, noting that he enjoyed time volunteering, spending time with his family, and horseback riding.
“Nearly eight months later, there are lasting impacts on my health – I have trouble with short-term memory, I have lost a body part (my pinky), I struggle with PTSD, anxiety and depression, and it is difficult for me to sleep at night,” said Khalsa in his impact statement in court. He said he cannot perform adequately at his job, and now suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Khalsa said he now only goes outside carrying pepper spray. “Now, when I interact with strangers, I am not as open as I used to be – I am more likely to view others not as my brothers, but as possible threats to my safety,” he said.
Pawanpreet Kaur Dhaliwal, staff attorney for the Sikh Coalition, said in an impact statement before the sentencing: “A bias-based attack like this one does not happen in a vacuum. The underlying causes of hate violence are complex, and there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to make our communities safe for all.”
“We need government leaders to condemn both bias-based violence and discriminatory policies, and allocate appropriate resources for combatting hate,” said Dhaliwal.
A restitution hearing is scheduled for July 7.