NBC Bay Area – Local News by Jodi Hernandez, May 18, 2017
Two Texas men on Thursday pleaded no contest to hate-crime charges that stemmed from them beating a Sikh man in the Bay Area last year.
Colton LeBlanc, 25, and Chase Little, 31, were sentenced to prison for three years apiece. The pair were former contractors at the Chevron Richmond Refinery.
Investigators say they viciously attacked Maan Singh Khalsa at a Richmond stop light in September.
The Texas men's attorneys downplayed the attack.
“I don't think he's hated by the clients. I think this is a very unfortunate incident,” defense attorney Joseph Tully said. “I don't think it was motivated by the differences in religion or culture or anything like that.”
The men first threw a beer can at Khalsa's car and cursed and yelled at him. Then they followed him, pulled his head out of the window, forcibly removed his turban and snipped off his long hair, authorities said.
“My attackers hit me with their fists, knocked off my turban, and yelled, ‘Cut his f****** hair.' They yanked my hair through the window and used a knife to saw parts of it off,” Khalsa said in a statement issued after the sentencing on Thursday.
Khalsa's finger was amputated after it was severely injured during the attack. He told police that he believes the men targeted him because they mistook him for a Muslim, according to a police report.
“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,” Khalsa wrote in the statement.
Khalsa added that he wishes people could just treat each other as equals despite their differences. He said he hopes his attackers will change their ways.
“I am blown away by Mr. Khalsa's dignity and humanity,” deputy DA Simon O'Connell said. “He is a gentle spirit and something we all need to find within ourselves in these times.”
Sheriff's deputies also arrested Dustin Micheal Albarado, 25, of Louisiana, on felony assault charges. He has been cleared of criminal liability and will not be charged, the District Attorney's Office said.
Khalsa immigrated to the United States from India in 2003. An IT specialist for the Social Security Administration, he is the father of an 8-year-old girl and volunteers his time to aid the Bay Area's Sikh community.
Reflecting on his life before the Sept. 25 assault, Khalsa, described being “care free.” His interests included horseback riding, working out and rock climbing with his child.
“I always assumed the best in others, like when I tried to explain that, “There is a misunderstanding, I am your brother” as the defendants followed my car and cussed at me. Like when I didn't think to roll up the window as the defendants came toward my car to punch me through my window,” he wrote.
Reliving Little and LeBlanc using a knife to hack off parts of his unshorn hair — a symbol of Sikhs' love for God — Khalsa described feeling humiliated.
“By cutting my hair, the attackers did not just attack my body; they attacked my dignity, my spirit, my faith, my religion and my entire community,” Khalsa stressed.
Even though he was able to drive away from his attackers and get help from police, Khalsa said his life is no longer the same.
“Immediately after the attack, I had suffered damaged teeth, a black eye, and cuts and bruises, including a gash on my right pinky finger,” he said. “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.”
The physical effects have affected Khalsa's psyche and reduced his productivity at work. The ambush robbed him of some of his favorite activities — he can no longer saddle a horse, lift weights, hoist himself up rock climbing walls or type easily. Khalsa is now also faced with a mountain of medical bills, forcing him to get a second job and cut back on volunteering.
Worse, though, is the fact that he no longer trusts easily, Khalsa admitted.
“It is difficult for me to go outside now without having pepper spray with me,” he said. “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.”
Aware that it will take years, maybe the remainder of his life, to truly recover from the anguish he suffered, Khalsa said he takes solace from the fact that LeBlanc and Little's actions were viewed as hate crimes. He is also turning to his Sikh faith, which underlies the importance of treating all people as equal, no matter one's background.
“Mr. Little and Mr. Leblanc, I hope that 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 concluded.