A man accused of beating up a Syrian teenager on a trolley in San Diego earlier this month pleaded guilty on Monday to assault and hate crime charges.
Adrian Richard Vergara, 26, was being held at San Diego Central Jail as of Tuesday afternoon. He is expected to be sentenced next month to five years in prison as part of his plea deal.
The 17-year-old victim, who has not been publicly identified, told police he had been riding the Metropolitan Transit System trolley home after school on Oct. 15 when Vegara sat down next to him.
As the teen was FaceTiming with a friend, prosecutors said Vergara pulled one of the teen’s earbuds out of his ear and asked, “What trash are you speaking?”
“Arabic,” the teen responded, according to prosecutors. That’s when Vegara began punching him in the face and shouting racial slurs at him.
“Fuck Arabs!” Vegara reportedly yelled during the assault.
Security video from the trolley confirmed the teen’s account, San Diego police announced days after the attack.
Vergara was arrested on Oct. 22 for an unrelated drug charge. Investigators recognized him as the teen’s attacker from the trolley security footage.
According to ABC News 10, Vergara has an extensive criminal record, including threatening a man with a billy club in 2012, violating a restraining order against his ex-girlfriend in 2016 and assaulting a man in 2017.
The teen attacked on the trolley said there were other people riding the trolley at time, but not a single one came to his defense.
“It wasn’t just what happened that made me mad and made me sad,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune with the help of an interpreter. “It was the silence of the others. … Why they didn’t help me? Why they did nothing while I was being beaten?”
The teen moved to the U.S. with his family in 2016 after fleeing war-torn Syria several years earlier. In a statement to Fox 5 San Diego, he said his brother had been the victim of a hate crime when they first immigrated to the U.S. but that the family decided not to report it at the time.
“We came to this country under the belief that we would have civil rights and liberties and safety,” he wrote. “When the attack happened to my brother we realized that this wasn’t true for everyone.”
But when the teen was attacked on the trolley, the family decided they could no longer stay silent.
“I am still dealing with the trauma from this and I don’t want the attention,” he said in his statement. “However, I urge others who are victims of such attacks to speak up. … It is important to seek justice when you experience a hate crime to ensure that such incidents don’t continue to happen in our community. To all the people who are attacking our community: Don’t judge us without knowing us.”
Reports of hate crimes across the U.S. have been on the rise in recent years. There was a 17% increase in hate crimes nationwide in 2017, marking the third consecutive annual increase, according to the FBI.
In his statement to Fox 5 San Diego, Vergara’s victim said he had been reading about an alleged attack against three Muslim women just days before his own assault. The women say they were talking to each other on a street in San Diego on Oct. 6 when Kyle Allen approached them and told them to “go back to your country.”
Allen, 50, shoved one of the women, slapped another and ripped off one of their hijabs, prosecutors said. He has pleaded not guilty to battery and a hate crime, and is due back in court on Dec. 5.
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