Federal Hate Crime Indictment Filed in Lake Tahoe Hate Crime

On March 5, 2008, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of California returned an indictment for federal civil rights charges for the race-based attack on Vishal Wadhwa and his companions on July 14, 2007.

Edwin Prather, past president of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA), has represented Mr. Wadhwa in a pro bono capacity since July 2007 and has served as the link between the case and local civil rights groups. Mr. Prather has been a tireless advocate on Mr. Wadhwa’s behalf working towards the goal of a federal prosecution.

Joseph and Georgia Silva were originally charged with felony and misdemeanor assaults with hate crime enhancements for their savage attack on Vishal and his companions while hurling racial epithets at their victims including, “Indian garbage,” “terrorists,” and “relatives of Osama bin Laden.” However, after delays of almost one year, the case was finally considered by the El Dorado Superior Court.

After reviewing only the police report and briefing from the parties, the court shocked Vishal and the community by removing the hate-crime enhancement and felony assault charge. The Tahoe Daily Tribune reported that while the court called the alleged crime “repugnant,” the court found that the evidence in the case failed to fit the legal definition of a hate crime. The Silvas ultimately pled guilty to only misdemeanor battery charges. The recent federal hate crime indictment is a wonderful victory for Mr. Wadhwa and the community.

In discussing the recent developments, Mr. Prather said: “Vishal and I are extremely pleased with the federal indictment against the Silvas. Our system of justice previously failed Vishal, but this is a huge step towards fixing that.” Mr. Prather also thanked AABA and other groups: “The Department of Justice’s involvement and the resultant indictment was not a simple matter. It was a hard-fought victory that evolved over many months after the end of the state case. Vishal and I need to thank AABA, California Department of Justice, Asian Law Caucus, South Asian Bar Association of Northern California, and individual AABA members for their fantastic support.”

Garner Weng, AABA President and partner at Hanson Bridgett LLP, recognized the import of the federal hate crime charges: “A hate crime is not just an attack against an individual victim. It is an attempt to intimidate and repress an entire community. AABA commends the Department of Justice for giving this troubling matter the serious attention it deserves. And, we want to thank Edwin for his deep commitment and longstanding leadership on this issue.”

Mr. Prather added that: “A federal hate crime prosecution subsequent to a state charge is extremely rare. A federal grand jury found that probable cause exists to believe that a hate crime was indeed committed against Vishal. While we are not satisfied by the charges alone, we must still celebrate this extraordinary indictment.”

Please contact Edwin Prather (eprather@clarencedyer.com) for additional information.

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