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‘Things are different now’: American charged for assault of Indian-origin man

Jeffrey Allen Burgess, 54, of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, has been accused of intentionally harming a man named Ankur Mehta on November 22, mistaking him for a Muslim.

world Updated: Mar 18, 2017 22:22 IST
Yashwant Raj
Hundreds of people march for peace on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, in Olathe, Kan., before starting a prayer vigil in response to the deadly shooting of two Indian immigrants--Srinivas Kuchibothla and Alok Madasani- and a third man, Ian Grillot, at a bar.
Hundreds of people march for peace on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, in Olathe, Kan., before starting a prayer vigil in response to the deadly shooting of two Indian immigrants--Srinivas Kuchibothla and Alok Madasani- and a third man, Ian Grillot, at a bar.(AP File)

A US grand jury indicted a man on Thursday for hate crime charges for attacking an Indian-descent man at a bar in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, just days after the November 8 presidential election mistaking him for Muslim from the Middle East.

“Things are different now … I don’t want you sitting next to me, you people,” the accused, Jeffrey Allen Burgess, told the victim Ankur Mehta, according to Penn Live, a local news site, before assaulting him.

The incident took place on November 22, not long after the election of President Donald Trump when the US was hit by a wave of hate crimes against minorities such as Hispanics, African Americans and Jewish people.

In the days since, there have been more attacks on Indians mistaken for Middle-Easterners. The worst of them took place in Olathe, Kansas, when engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla was fatally shot and his friend was wounded, also at a bar.

A Sikh man in Kent, Washington, was shot by a masked man who told him to go back to “your own country”. Deep Rai, the victim, suffered injuries on his arm. The assailant remains at large.

In the November 22 incident, Burgess began by hurling ethnic slurs at Mehta who was on his electronic device and had his headphones on.

The police said Burgess then “launched an unprovoked attack on the victim”. Witnesses have told police the accused had held Mehta by the head and punched him, according to a local report.

Mehta was taken to a hospital with a loose tooth and a cut to his upper lip.

The police said Burgess was arrested on suspicion of ethnic intimidation, simple assault, harassment and public drunkenness.

The US attorney’s office for the western district of Pennsylvania announced on Thursday the grand jury’s indictment of Burgess.

Before a court appearance, Burgess is reported to have blamed alcohol for the incident. “I’m not that kind of person ... It happened and I’m remorseful about it,” he said.

If convicted, Burgess, 54, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison or a $250,000 fine or both.