(RNS) — Colorado prosecutors have added a hate crime charge against a man accused of striking a 61-year-old Sikh man with his car and leaving him for dead almost three months ago.
The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Jefferson County has charged Eric Breemen with 17 counts, including a felony bias-motivated crime charge and attempted murder in an alleged assault against Sikh business owner Lakhwant Singh in Lakewood, Colorado, on April 29.
“The decision to add a bias-motivated charge against Breemen is a resounding victory not just for Mr. Singh, but for minority communities who are threatened by bias and bigotry every day,” said Amrith Kaur, legal director at the Sikh Coalition.
The civil rights group led a national campaign to push for a hate crime charge, with petitions demanding “#JusticeforLakhwant” drawing thousands of signatures and outcry from Sikh and South Asian communities. Nearly 30 civil rights organizations, interfaith groups and gurdwaras signed a letter urging prosecutors to fully investigate the assault as a hate crime.
Singh was hospitalized for 65 days after being found lying on the parking lot of his own liquor store with severe injuries, including internal bleeding, a spinal fracture and other broken bones.
Breemen had allegedly verbally harassed Singh and his wife inside the store, damaging products, shouting profanity and repeatedly telling both to “go back to your country.” When Breemen left the store, witnesses said, Singh followed to photograph his license plate.
Prosecutors say Breeman then hit Singh with his car at a high speed, running him over and immediately fleeing the scene. Later, Breeman described Singh to officers as an “older Arab.”
“Adding these charges sends a clear message: Hatred is not welcome in Jefferson County, and those who are targeted for being different know that this community will acknowledge it and stand with them in solidarity,” Kaur said.
The district attorney’s office, which noted that Breeman was on bond in another felony case at the time of the attack, said that the investigation into the case was delayed due to Singh’s hospitalization and covid-19 restrictions.
“We would have preferred to have had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Singh personally closer to the time of his assault as we made decisions in this case,” District Attorney Pete Weir said in a statement noting the “intense interest” and public outcry from Sikh communities.
“However, the severity of Mr. Singh’s injuries and health concerns related to the pandemic only recently permitted a thorough, in-person, interview with Mr. Singh by law enforcement,” he said.
Singh said he appreciated the authorities’ recognition of “the role that hate played in my horrible attack.”
“I am so very grateful to everyone — Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike, from Lakewood, elsewhere in Colorado, across the country, and beyond — who have stood with me and my family in this incredibly difficult time,” Singh said.
Breeman is now being held on a $50,000 bond at the Jefferson County jail. A preliminary hearing is set for Friday (July 24).