SAN DIEGO -- A man who allegedly assaulted a 16-year-old Syrian refugee and used a racial epithet during the attack while the two rode a San Diego trolley was charged Thursday with felony assault and a hate crime allegation.
Adrian Vergara, 26, is accused in the Oct. 15 attack, which happened around 3 p.m., when the unidentified victim was traveling home from school.
According to Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh, the victim was speaking to a friend on the phone in Arabic, leading Vergara to pull an earbud out of the victim's ear and ask, "What trash are you speaking?" When the victim told him he was speaking Arabic, Vergara allegedly began shouting anti-Arab and Islamophobic slurs and attacked him. Trinh said the victim was struck five or six times.
Following the assault, which left the victim with minor facial injuries, the assailant got off the trolley at 62nd Street in Encanto, police said.
Detectives tracked down video images that "corroborated what the boy reported about the attack," according to San Diego Police Department Lt. Shawn Takeuchi.
Vergara was arrested Tuesday by Port of San Diego harbor police, initially for an alleged misdemeanor narcotics violation.
"During the arrest, Vergara was recognized as being wanted in connection to the SDPD hate crime investigation," Takeuchi said.
Vergara faces 11 years in state prison if convicted of all counts.
Bail was set at $30,000 in the trolley attack. However, because Vergara was on probation at the time for an unrelated robbery and vehicle theft case, he's being held without bail. He's due back in court Nov. 4 for a readiness conference.
“We don’t tolerate hate of any kind," said Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh. "We respect people and their first amendment rights to express whatever opinions they have, but at the point where they threaten harm or actually commit harm to other people we have zero tolerance for that and so we take those offenses seriously and we will do what we can to hold those people accountable.”
In a statement issued Thursday regarding the attack, the victim wrote that his brother had also experienced a hate crime when their family first came to the United States. "We didn't report it when it happened because we didn't think justice was possible," the victim wrote. "When this attack happened to me on the trolley last week, I decided to file the police report because we can't stay quiet about this."
The boy said his family "came to this country under the belief that we would have civil rights and liberties and safety. When the attack happened to my brother, we realized that this wasn't true for everyone." However, he urged other victims of hate crimes to speak up "to ensure that such incidents don't continue to happen in our community."
The trolley assault occurred nine days after a man was arrested in Little Italy for allegedly shoving Muslim women in hijabs and telling them to "go back to (their) country." The suspect in that case, Kyle Allen, 50, pleaded not guilty Monday to battery charges and a hate crime allegation.