A man who attacked an elderly Sikh person during a car accident in New York, repeatedly calling him “turban man” and fatally beating him has been charged with manslaughter and assault as hate crimes, prosecutors said.
Gilbert Augustin was arraigned on Tuesday on an indictment charging him with manslaughter and assault as hate crimes in the death of 66-year-old Jasmer Singh, whom he attacked after a fender bender in Kew Gardens in the neighbourhood of Queens, District Attorney Melinda Katz said.
During the dispute that preceded the fatal beating, Augustin is accused of repeatedly referring to Singh as a “turban man”.
“This is a case of a fender bender immediately escalating to hateful language and then brutal, deadly violence. We will show in court that it was a rage inflamed by hate that led to this senseless tragedy. The defendant will have to answer to some very serious charges,” Ms. Katz said.
Augustin faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Holder ordered him to return to court on December 6.
The October 19 attack on Singh, which led to his death, came just days after a 19-year-old Sikh boy was attacked by Christopher Philippeaux, 26, while he was riding the bus in Richmond Hill.
Philippeaux punched the Sikh teenager in the back of the head, tried to knock off his turban and told him: “We don’t wear that in this country.” Philippeaux has been charged with assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment.
As the Sikh community raised concerns over the recent incidents of hate crime and assault, New York City Mayor Eric Adams vowed to protect members of the community and gave a clarion call for educating people about Sikhism.
On Sunday, Mr. Adams and New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar met and addressed members of the Sikh community at the Baba Makhan Shah Lubana Sikh Centre in the Queens neighbourhood of South Richmond Hill.
“You are not about terror, you are about protector. That is what needs to be taught throughout this entire city. Our young people need to know that, our adults need to know that,” Mr. Adams had said.
Describing Sikhs as “protectors” of society, Ms. Rajkumar asserted that the hateful targeting of Sikhs is “not acceptable” and perpetrators of such violence will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of law.
“For the first time, we are going to use the levers of government to end hate crimes against Sikh Americans. For the first time, we are going to come together and…educate… New York State, the United States and the entire world about who the Sikh people truly are so we are not attacked and misunderstood,” Ms. Rajkumar, the first Indian-American woman elected to New York State Office and who described herself as a “daughter of Punjab”, said.
Ms. Rajkumar had said this was not the first time she had visited the Gurudwara and had spoken out against hate crimes.
“But it is the last time I want to be standing here speaking out against hate crimes. Starting now we are going to end the hateful targeting of Sikhs,” she said.
Singh’s son Subeg Singh Multani, an immigration attorney, who was also present at the event on Sunday, had said that the attack on his father should be pursued as a hate crime.
Mr. Multani, who became emotional and choked up as he addressed the gathering, said his father came from India to the US in the early 1990s with the American dream in his eyes. “We didn’t know that the dream would be shattered the way it has shattered” on October 19 in this “great” and diverse city of New York.
Mr. Multani had called on members of the community to join him in court for Augustin’s arraignment. “We will show the solidarity and unity” to the judge. “We can show them this is a hate crime. This case must be pursued as a hate crime,” he had said.
According to the charges in the case, late morning on October 19, Singh was driving a vehicle that collided with Augustin’s car. Immediately following the collision, Singh and Augustin pulled over to assess the damage.
A witness observed Augustin get out of his car and approach Singh, who remained seated in his vehicle and engaged in a verbal dispute with the victim.
During the dispute, the witness heard Augustin say to Singh: “No police, no police.” The witness also heard Augustin repeatedly refer to Singh as a “Turban man.” While arguing angrily with Singh, Augustin told the victim that he was not going to allow him to go home and did not want him to call the police.
According to witness testimony and video surveillance, Augustin reached into Singh’s car and grabbed Singh’s cell phone. Singh got out of his car and followed Augustin, who appeared to be holding two phones. The pair appeared to argue. Singh eventually recovered his phone, prosecutors said in a statement.
As Singh was walking back to his car, Augustin punched him three times in the head and face. One of the punches caused Singh’s turban to come flying off his head.
As a result of the blows, Singh fell backwards to the ground, the back of his head hitting the pavement. Singh suffered a brain injury and was taken to a hospital. He died the next day.
Prosecutors said that after striking Singh, Augustin got into his car and drove away. The day after the assault, a New York Police Department officer saw Augustin sitting in his car in Jamaica.
Augustin was unable to produce a valid driver’s license or insurance. A review of motor vehicle records showed his driver’s license was suspended. He was taken into custody.
Augustin, 30, of 111th Avenue in Jamaica, was charged in a 20-count indictment. The charges include manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime; assault in the second degree as a hate crime; two counts of operating or driving a motor vehicle without a license; leaving the scene of an incident without reporting and reckless driving.