Six-month sentence in Seattle hate crime attack on immigrant cab driver

Taxi hate crime
A December assault in a taxi in the Magnolia neighborhood is the second high-profile assault of a cab driver in Seattle that is alleged to be racially motivated in the past two years. (Photo via Flickr user doerky)

Jesse Fleming, a 27-year-old man stationed at the naval base in Everett, was sentenced to six months in jail on Thursday in connection with a hate crime attack on a Somali American cab driver last December.

The driver, Adan Ali Gaal, 34, was knocked unconscious in the attack and suffered a broken nose. Prosecutors from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office had asked for the maximum sentence against Fleming, which would have been nine months.

Fleming plead guilty in June to second-degree assault and malicious harassment after an attack on a Somali American cab driver. Malicious harassment is Washington state’s legal term for a hate crime — one motivated by racial, ethnic or religious bias. Fleming, of San Manuel, Arizona, is on active duty in the military, according to charging papers.

According to the report, on Dec. 7, Gaal had picked up Fleming and several other passengers and drove them to an address in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. After an argument over how long the payment transaction was taken, Fleming called the driver a “terrorist” and asked him if he was a member of ISIS, according to police.

The case is the second high profile assault of a cab driver in Seattle with alleged racial or religious motivation in the past several years.

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 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.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray released a statement Thursday after the sentence was passed.

“We must stand together across all faiths and religions, races and ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations, and renew our resolve against violence and hatred. While this sentence will not erase this terrible crime, we will continue to fight intolerance and hatred throughout Seattle,” he said.

The Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for the Navy to also take action against Fleming.

“At a time when anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise nationwide, community members need to know that the law is on their side if they stand up and report hate crimes,” said CAIR-WA Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari, in a statement prepared before Thursday’s sentencing hearing. “We are still waiting for the Department of the Navy to publicly clarify whether it has given a dishonorable discharge to Jesse Fleming after his guilty plea on two charges stemming from this vicious hate-based attack on a fellow American. We expect a clear, public response from the Navy.”

The attack on Gaal was the second high-profile Seattle hate crime against cab drivers in the past several years.

In 2013, 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.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to add a statement from Mayor Ed Murray’s office.