Drunk who beat Sikh cab driver headed to prison

SEATTLE - A Federal Way man accused of viciously beating a Sikh cab driver while shouting anti-Muslim slurs is headed to federal prison for the hate crime.

On Oct. 17, 2012, Jamie W. Larson attacked a cab driver, who was driving the 50-year-old home after a drunken afternoon in Auburn. Larson, who seriously injured the man during the vicious beating, apparently believed the Sikh driver to be Muslim.

Larson tore out chunks of the man's beard, loosened one of the driver's teeth and caused internal injuries which saw the Indian immigrant hospitalized for eight days and miss two months of work.

During the attack, Larson shouted hateful comments about Arabs, Persians and, more generally, Muslims. A 27-time convict and unreformed drunk, Larson also complained that immigrants are "taking all of our jobs."

Asking that Larson be sentenced to more than four years in federal prison, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Miyake noted that the man Larson beat so savagely is still trying to cope with his injuries.

For his part, Larson penned a lengthy apology in a letter to the court.

"It's a terrible feeling to awaken in jail and find out someone was in the hospital because of your actions," Larson said in a letter to U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, who will sentence his Tuesday.

"Words," Larson continued, "cannot express my sorrow and remorse."

Larson, through his attorney, has asked that he be sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Claiming he was in an alcohol-induced black out when he attacked the driver, Larson has apologized for his conduct and sworn to finally stop drinking.

The afternoon attack came after Auburn police found Larson sitting in shrubbery near a Fred Meyer store. The officer called a cab to pick up Larson, who was apparently too drunk to see himself home.

The STITA Taxi driver retrieved Larson and, at the man's direction, drove him to a Federal Way home. Arriving in the 1200 block of Southwest 301st Street, Larson refused to get out of the car.

The driver was speaking with a resident of the home - it turned out Larson wasn't welcome there - when Larson attacked him from behind. Pulling at the man's beard, Larson pummeled him while shouting anti-Muslim slurs and deriding the driver for moving to the United States.

Even after police arrived, Larson continued making bigoted comments about the driver, an immigrant from India. According to police, Larson referred to him derisively as Iranian and Iraqi, and used several anti-Arab slurs before also using an anti-gay slur.

"We have Americans fighting overseas in his country, and why doesn't he go back to there?" Larson demanded at the scene.

In court papers, a Federal Way detective pointed out that Larson's comments were not only hateful but based on his misperception of the driver's heritage.

"Officers noted that (the driver), a follower of the Sikhism religion, wore a turban headdress, kirpan, kara and a Kanga; items that symbolize (his) religion," the detective told the court, referring to dagger, comb and iron bracelet that are articles of the Sikh faith.

Initially charged in state court, Larson was ultimately prosecuted federally under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law that criminalizes attacks based on a person's actual or perceived race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, in addition to several other factors. Nicholas Durham, a Washington, D.C.,-based trial attorney with the Justice Department's civil rights division assisted in the prosecution.

In a memo to the court, Miyake noted the doubly misguided hate attacks against Sikhs are a regular occurrence.

"Intended or not, this attack conveyed a message that those of Middle Eastern descent and Sikhs do not belong in America and are unsafe here," Miyake said in court papers. "These types of attacks have become commonplace since Sept. 11, 2001, when misdirected individuals or groups focus hate and violence on Sikhs and Muslims, believing these individuals to be associated with terrorism."

Writing the court, Larson apologized for attacking the cab driver in a lengthy and apparently heartfelt letter to the court.

"I have no excuse," Larson said. "I chose to drink. My actions could have resulted in (the man's) death. A innocent man goes to work to provide for his family, and is savagely beat down for no reason. I feel frustration and am angry at myself.

"What is wrong with me?"

Born in Toledo outside of Chehalis, Larson started drinking in his teens and hasn't ever really stopped. He dropped out of high school, and has had low-level trouble with the law since.

"There is no doubt that alcoholism is not only the root cause of the current offense, but this disease has been a losing battle for Mr. Larson for a quarter of a century," federal public defender Kyana Givens said in court papers. "His alcoholism has cost him relationships with nearly all of his siblings, friends, every romantic relationship and most recently his daughter."

Larson went on to say he's been participating in alcohol treatment since his arrest - his stretch in lock up is the longest he's been sober since he started drinking - and hopes to pay restitution to the driver once he is released.

Through his attorney, Larson contended he would not have attacked the driver had he not downed a six pack and a fifth of Jagermeister that afternoon. Miyake didn't see it that way.

Miyake noted this will be Larson's 27th criminal conviction. While alcoholism may have driven him, he's failed to address his addiction despite numerous court orders; he was actually in treatment when he attacked the cab driver.

And Larson's hurt people before. Among his victims, Miyake said, are a child he hurt in 2008 and an ambulance driver he attacked in 2009. He's also tallied six drunken driving convictions.

"Larson has long known that his drinking can lead him to commit crimes and assault others," Miyake said. "Yet Larson continued to choose to drink alcohol despite understanding the proven harmful consequences that follow."

Larson is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday by Judge Coughenour at the federal courthouse in Seattle. He remains jailed.