Prosecutors have decided not to charge a Minnesota woman with a hate crime for smashing a Muslim woman in the face with a beer mug — even though they believe the assailant was motivated by hatred and bias.
Jodie Burchard-Risch has been charged with felony third-degree assault in the Oct. 30 attack against Asma Jama at an Applebee’s restaurant in Coon Rapids.
But prosecutors said hate crimes are only considered a gross misdemeanor under state law, reported NPR.
“Unfortunately, based on our laws, if we charge the crime that has that title (hate) in it, we run the risk of a conviction of a lower level offense and we don’t want to do that,” said Paul Young, of the Anoka County Attorney’s Office.
“We absolutely recognize the truth and the ugliness of the crime, but we are also going to do our job and try to make the punishment fit the crime, and a gross misdemeanor doesn’t do that,” he told the Star-Tribune. “All we are doing is saying that for some reason the Minnesota Legislature said a bias assault or a hate crime in Minnesota is a gross misdemeanor.
The 43-year-old Burchard-Risch angrily confronted Jama because the Muslim woman spoke Swahili with her family at a neighboring booth at the restaurant.
Jama, an ethnic Somali who came to Minnesota in 2000 from Kenya, said Burchard-Risch and her husband told her family to “go home.”
“When you’re in America you should speak English,” the woman said her attacker told her.
Jama told the woman she had a free speech right to speak to her family in a foreign language — which she said enraged Burchard-Risch.
Burchard-Risch “smashed” her beer mug across Jama’s face in a “roundhouse punch” motion before running away, police said.
The blow split Jama’s lower lip and required treatment at a hospital, where she received 17 stitches.
Prosecutors said additional charges could be filed after Jama’s medical records are evaluated, and they said the assailant’s motives may be considered during sentencing.
“We know that this was a crime that appears to be based on hatred and bias,” Young said. “We are considering that and we’ll keep analyzing what role that plays in sentencing.”
Jama has left Minnesota to be with family and said she had considered moving away.
But she plans to return later this month after neighbors and other community members gathered outside Coon Rapids City Hall to show their support for her.
A friend has raised more than twice her $5,000 goal in an online fundraiser to help Jama pay medical expenses.