A federal grand jury indicted Jeffrey Allen Burgess, 54, for allegedly beating an Indian in the face and head because of his race, officials announced Thursday.
Burgess is facing one-count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Bryd Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act by willfully causing bodily injury to Ankur Mehta because of race, color and national origin, according to the indictment, officials said.
If convicted, Burgess is facing up to 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.
Burgess is charged with beating Mehta in his face and head at Red Robin.
Dozens of people from community activist groups showed up for the preliminary hearing to support the alleged victim, Mehta, and denounce ethnic intimidation, according to an Action News 4 report.
“It’s what every day minorities in this country have to deal with,” said Earnest Rajakone.
Before his court appearance, Burgess spoke with Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 outside the courtroom and said, “It was the alcohol.”
He added, “I’m not that kind of person,” and, “It happened and I’m remorseful about it.”
Police were called to the restaurant at the mall for an assault occurring at the bar. When officers arrived, they found Mehta, who directed them to the suspect, according to the Action News 4 report.
Police said Burgess spoke with slurred speech and was staggering and smelled of alcohol.
Mehta told police that Burgess had been seated next to him at the bar. Mehta was working on his tablet and had earbuds in his ears.
Burgess allegedly began using racial and ethnic epithets and told Mehta that “things are different now” and “I don’t want you sitting next to me. You people.”
Burgess then used an ethnic slur commonly used against those of Middle Eastern descent. But Mehta is not of Middle Eastern descent. He is Indian.
Although Mehta is Indian, the Council for American-Islamic Relations appeared at court to show solidarity for minorities who are targeted by hate crimes and intimidation.
“This tears at the fabric of our society. We need to work together as Americans,” CAIR President Safdar Khwaja said.
The criminal complaint says Burgess beat Mehta in the head and face with his elbow and fist — “launched an unprovoked attack on the victim as he was seated at the bar, beat him physically,” Bethel Park Police Chief Timothy O’Connor told News 4.
The News 4 reported that Mehta was oblivious to the comments until Burgess allegedly struck him in the face with his elbow multiple times. Witnesses told police Burgess grabbed Mehta by the head and punched him. Witnesses also said Mehta was defenseless and unaware of Burgess’s impending attack.
Mehta was taken to St. Clair Hospital with a loose tooth and a cut to his upper lip.
Burgess was arrested on suspicion of ethnic intimidation, simple assault, harassment and public drunkenness, according to the News 4 report.
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