Billy James Hammett, 28, and Perry Sylvester Jackson, 27, were arrested today in Yuba County, Calif., on federal hate crime charges for their racially motivated attack on an African American woman and white man in Marysville, Calif., on April 18, 2011. A third defendant, Anthony Merrell Tyler, 32, has turned himself in to authorities in Sacramento, Calif.
The defendants were charged in a three-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of California and unsealed today. They are charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Shepard-Byrd Act criminalizes certain acts of physical violence causing bodily injury motivated by any person’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.
The indictment alleges that when an African American woman accompanied by a white male drove into the parking lot of a convenience store, Jackson shouted a racial epithet at the male. Hammett then approached the driver’s side of the car, using a racial epithet to refer to the African American driver, while Jackson and Tyler attacked from the other side of the car. The indictment further alleges that Hammett and Jackson punched and kicked the African American woman driver and white male passenger and that Tyler smashed the car windshield with a crowbar and used racial epithets again.
If convicted, the defendants could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the conspiracy charge, and 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each of the two hate-crime charges.
This case is being investigated by the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Steven Lapham for the Eastern District of California and Trial Attorney Chiraag Bains from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.