A Washington man who attacked a Sikh cabdriver, beating him until he suffered kidney failure, will go to prison for more than three years for committing a federal hate crime.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle sentenced Jamie Larson to 40 months in prison for yelling racial slurs and beating taxi driver Kashmira Hothi.
Larson, 50, admitted that he attacked Hothi, a Sikh from India, because he believed Hothi was of Middle Eastern descent.
In court Tuesday, Coughenour called the defendant’s conduct “absolutely unacceptable.”
“Larson used the most disgusting, ugly and racist language that I have heard in 30 years on the bench,” the judge continued, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
Attacks like the one against Hothi are not unfamiliar after Sept. 11, which was followed by a rise in crimes against Sikhs. Sikh men, who wear beards and turbans in accordance with their faith, are sometimes incorrectly thought to be Muslim.
In the afternoon of Oct. 17, 2012, an intoxicated Larson was found by police outside a grocery store in Auburn, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. Police, after deciding that Larson was not so drunk that he needed to be incarcerated, called a cab for him.
Police gave the cabdriver, Hothi, a destination based on Larson’s driver’s license. According to court documents, on the drive there, Larson asked Hothi about his turban.
After a 15-minute journey, the cab pulled up at the address, but Larson said he would not get out because it was not his home. Hothi, confused, then knocked on the home’s front door, and was greeted by a woman who said that she knew Larson — because he had dated her daughter for many years — but that she would not let him stay in her house.
While Hothi was talking to the woman, Larson came up behind him and attacked, punching Hothi in the face. Larson pushed Hothi to the ground, pulled out part of his beard and stomped on his stomach, according to court documents. He yelled things about his “forefathers fighting and dying for America,” and asked Hothi: “Why did you come to my country?”
The woman called the police, and when an officer arrived he heard Larson yell “towel head, send them all back ... they’re taking all of our jobs,” and other slurs relating to Iran, court documents alleged.
Hothi, 50, suffered acute kidney failure from the attack and was hospitalized for eight days, and couldn’t return to work for months.
“Larson’s attack changed [Hothi’s] life, interfered with his ability to work and has emotionally scarred him,” reads the sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors.
Though Larson pleaded guilty to the hate crime, the defendant’s lawyer argued in court documents that the root of Larson’s problem is alcoholism, and that “the disease has been a losing battle for Mr. Larson for a quarter of a century.”
“His alcoholism has cost him relationships with nearly all of his siblings, friends, every romantic relationshop and most recently his daughter,” the defense argued.
The memorandum explains that Larson’s year of pretrial incarceration was the longest he has been sober in 25 years, and that he feels remorse for what he did to Hothi.
“It is a terrible feeling to awaken in jail and find out someone was in the hospital because of your actions,” Larson wrote in a letter. “It wasn’t until I read the discovery that I realized the seriousness of my actions. It was hard for me to read. I make no excuse."
The defendant argued that a sentence of two or three years would be more than enough because Larson had committed to joining Alcoholics Anonymous and addressing his problems with alcohol.
Prosecutors, however, said that Larson’s crime was just one in a long line of hate crimes: “Intended or not, this attack conveyed a message that those of Middle Eastern descent and Sikhs do not belong in America and are unsafe here. These types of attacks have been commonplace since Sept. 11, 2001, when misdirected individuals or groups focus hate and violence on Sikh’s and Muslims, believing these individuals to be associated with terrorism."
There have been numerous attacks on Sikhs since 2001. In what is thought of as the first post-9/11 hate crime, a Sikh man was fatally shot outside a gas station in Mesa, Ariz., by a man upset about the terrorist attacks four days earlier.
The biggest act of violence against Sikhs in the United States since Sept. 11 came last year in Wisconsin, when a gunman killed opened fire in a gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, during prayer services, killing six people.
In addition to his 40 months in prison, Larson was sentenced to three years of supervised release and owes restitution to the victim in an amount not yet determined.