Man faces charges for driving through a 'Stop Asian Hate' rally and yelling racial slurs
LOS ANGELES — A Diamond Bar, California, man who drove his car through a "Stop Asian Hate" rally and yelled racial slurs has been indicted by federal prosecutors.
Steve Lee Dominguez, 56, cut off several protesters in a crosswalk, including a 9-year-old, almost hitting them with his black Honda at the March 2021 rally in Diamond Bar, according to prosecutors.
Dominguez yelled racial slurs, including "Go back to China" and "F— China," to protesters, some of whom were Black or Asian American, the indictment said.
The indictment, dated April 29 and unsealed Thursday, charges Dominguez with intimidating pedestrians on a public road with his car — a dangerous weapon — on the basis of their race.
He faces a second count of intimidating and interfering with people who were exercising their right to free speech and assembly to protest racially motivated violence.
Dominguez, who was arrested Thursday and pleaded not guilty, faces up to 20 years in federal prison if he is convicted.
It's unusual for a suspect to be charged with interfering with the right to protest, especially on the basis of the protesters' race and when no one was injured, said Brian Sun, a former federal prosecutor who is now a trial lawyer.
The 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, attack, in which a man drove his car into a crowd, killing a protester, is a more typical prosecution, Sun said.
Amid the rise in anti-Asian attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some Asian Americans have complained about the infrequency of hate crimes charges.
Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to charge Dominguez, writing in a memo that he was attempting to get away from the protesters, not to harm them.
"Proving these cases is not easy unless you have good eyewitness testimony, usually from multiple people and/or video or something like that," said Sun, a founding member of the Alliance for Asian American Justice, which offers legal services to the victims of anti-Asian hate. "But you can prove that hate crimes are hate crimes."
The Diamond Bar protest took place days after six Asian American women were shot to death at three Atlanta-area spas, prompting rallies against Asian hate around the country.
At one point, more than 500 protesters gathered at Diamond Bar Boulevard and Grand Avenue, said Diamond Bar Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Chou, who was there.
"I'm heartened to see this case being picked up again," Chou said. "We owe ... the people of Diamond Bar ... a full investigation on what happened."
According to the indictment, Dominguez called 911 after driving through the crowd, making a false report that protesters were blocking the street and he had to run a red light because "they were about to trample [his] car."
Kate Morris, a public defender assigned to defend Dominguez, did not respond to a request for comment.