A 26-year-old man is accused of a hate crime after allegedly beating a Somali American cab driver while calling him a “terrorist” and asking him if he was a member of ISIS. Two other passengers who rode with him allegedly participated in the early Sunday morning assault, according to police.
Jesse Alexander Fleming, 26, was charged Wednesday in King County Superior Court on suspicion of second-degree assault and malicious harassment, a charge that alleges that the attack was motivated by racial, ethnic or religious bias. Fleming, of San Manuel, Arizona, is on active duty in the military, according to charging papers.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office requested a $100,000 bail for Fleming. His bail initially was set at $50,000.
The driver, Adan Ali Gaal, 34, was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken nose that may require surgery, according to the charging documents from the prosecutor’s office. Gaal spoke earlier this week to television reporters, who shared photos of the taxi driver after the attack.
The case is the second high profile assault of a cab driver in Seattle with alleged racial or religious motivation in the past two years.
Gaal told Seattle Police that he picked up three men and a woman in Belltown just before 2 a.m. Sunday and drove them to the 4200 block of 27th Ave. W. in Magnolia, according to a news release by the Seattle Police Department.
According to the account, Fleming got angry over how long it took to process his credit card to pay for the transaction, according to police, and he told the driver “you are a terrorist,” “you should go back to your own country,” and “I will shoot you” before leaning across the seat to punch him in the face.
After Gaal was knocked out, his foot came off the brake and the taxi rolled down the hill and struck several cars and an apartment building. The two other men in the car also joined the attack, according to police.
The passengers fled the scene when neighbors came out to investigate, but Fleming returned while police were investigating, according to police. According to the police account, Fleming said that he beat the driver in self-defense.
The Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for an FBI hate crime investigation into the case, and also called for the public for help in identifying the other two men who were allegedly involved in the beating.
“We are hearing news of high profile anti-Muslim hate crimes happening nationwide almost every day,” said CAIR-WA Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari in a prepared statement. “We will work with our partners in state and federal law enforcement, including the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, so that the perpetrators are met with the full force of the law.”
The federal government has taken on such incidents before. Last December, Jamie Larson of Federal Way was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison after he beat an immigrant cab driver in 2012 while making disparaging remarks about Muslims. Larson’s victim, who suffered a concussion and underwent physical therapy for his injuries, is an immigrant from India and is a practicing Sikh, according to a story from The Seattle Times published at the time of Larson’s sentencing.