Two men pleaded no contest to felony assault charges with hate crime enhancements Thursday for beating a Sikh man in Richmond last September. Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Patricia Scanlon sentenced each to three years in prison.
Colton Leblanc and Chase Little, both from Texas, beat Maan Singh Khalsa through the window of his car at a stoplight in Richmond, knocking off his turban and cutting off a fistful of his hair.
Khalsa suffered an injured eye, damage to his teeth and head injuries. And one of his fingers needed to be amputated following the attack. Contra Costa County’s district attorney charged the two men involved in the assault with a hate crime because unshorn hair is considered sacred in the Sikh religion.
Both men showed no reaction when Khalsa read a statement in court Thursday. Khalsa — described by the Sikh Coalition as “a father, IT specialist, and caregiver to the elderly” — said his “life was changed forever” following the assault.
“The recognition of the attack as a hate crime — as harm to my dignity and my entire community — is the first step in the process,” Khalsa said in court Thursday. “My Sikh faith is of utmost importance for me. As a Sikh, I believe that all of us are one human family, and that we must treat everyone as equals regardless of our many differences. Mr. Little and Mr. Leblanc, I hope one day you will come to share this view. I still consider you my brothers, and I hope that you will learn about me and my community, and one day consider me your brother, too.”
Khalsa said he has experienced short-term memory problems and has been unable to perform his job at the same level.
“Physically, it’s still a lot of difficulties dealing with my life,” Khalsa said following the hearing. “Adjusting to a lost finger, and I just had a surgery done on my eye. Last week the stitches came out. I’m still a little tender and bothering me. I had a lot of sleeping issues and stuff like that, so it’s an ongoing battle. It will take a long time to heal out of that.”
A restitution hearing will be held on July 7.
“Acknowledging that this bias-based attack is a hate crime under state law both recognizes the deep dignitary harm to Mr. Khalsa, and ensures that we, as a society, confront the problems of Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia that make the Sikh community a target for violence,” said Sikh Coalition staff attorney Pawanpreet Kaur in a statement.
The altercation on Sept. 25 began when a half-full beer can was thrown out the window of a Ford F-250 truck at a stoplight near Hilltop Mall in Richmond. Five refinery workers, who were in the region doing contract work for Chevron, had been drinking alcohol and were riding in the truck. The beer can struck Khalsa’s car door. Khalsa testified on April 24 that he opened his door, reached down and tossed the can back toward the truck’s open window.
According to testimony by Dustin Albarado, who was in the back seat of the truck, Little became angry and flung himself across Albarado’s lap and began “cussing” out the window at Khalsa. Albarado testified that Khalsa was also yelling obscenities … calling the refinery workers “stupid-ass punks.” Albarado says he wrapped his arms around Little to restrain him.
The light changed and both cars moved ahead — the incident seemingly over.
But then Little’s hat flew out the truck window, Albarado testified. Little jumped out to retrieve it, but instead of getting back in the truck, he ran toward Khalsa’s car, which had stopped at the next light. Little’s cousin — and now co-defendant — Leblanc jumped out and followed him.
At this point, Khalsa testified, he didn’t see the two men approaching, but had already called 911 to report he was being harassed. He was on the phone with dispatch when Little and Leblanc began hitting him through the open window. Khalsa says they punched him 10 to 15 times with a closed fist.
It was during the beating that Khalsa says his two turbans fell off. One of the defendants pulled his bun, yanking his head down toward the window. One of the defendants began yelling, “cut his fucking hair,” Khalsa testified. He says he put his hands up, attempting to block his assailants and the 4-inch pocket knife. He sustained at least two deep gashes to his fingers.
Throughout the entire episode, Khalsa says he never heard anyone yell a racial slur or make a comment about his religion or his appearance. Defense attorneys emphasized this several times — attempting to raise doubts this was a hate crime.