SEATTLE — A man accused of brutally attacking a Sikh cab driver, stomping on him as he lay on the ground and ripping out part of his beard, has been indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with a hate crime.
The indictment of Jamie Larson, 49, of Federal Way, Wash., replaces earlier state charges. Conviction under the federal hate crimes statute carries a potential penalty of 10 years in prison.
King County authorities who initially investigated the case said the taxi driver, a native of India, was wearing a traditional Sikh turban when he responded to a request from Auburn police on Oct. 17 to take Larson home from a Fred Meyer store, where he was drunk, falling in the bushes and refusing to leave.
Along the way, the driver later told police, Larson commented on his turban and told him he shouldn't have come to the U.S., saying his father was a soldier who had fought for America.
Once they arrived at Larson's home, the defendant began savagely beating the 50-year-old driver, shouting racial epithets, punching him in the face and jumping on him, according to county charging documents.
Horrified neighbors called police, who handcuffed Larson and interviewed the driver, who was walking around in a daze before beginning to vomit repeatedly.
Larson told officers the driver was a "towel head" and an "Iranian, Iraqi rag head," the indictment alleges.
"We have Americans fighting overseas, and why doesn't he go back there," one officer quoted the defendant as saying.
Larson was initially charged in King County Superior Court with malicious harassment based on the victim's race, religion or ethnicity, a state hate crime charge. King County prosecutors dismissed those charges this week in hopes Larson would get a longer prison term under federal law. He appeared in federal court Tuesday under the new indictment.
Federal prosecutors said they would seek to have him detained before trial. According to King County prosecutors, Larson has been booked 19 times since 1986 with 34 warrants, on charges including disorderly conduct, assault, possession of marijuana and various cases of malicious mischief.
"Attacks such as this one, based on prejudice and racial hate, are contrary to who we are and violate the law," U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a statement.