In what appeared to be the first hate crimes charge of 2019, federal prosecutors told a judge on Thursday that racial hatred motivated a white man to viciously attack a Black motorist in the nation’s capital in August.
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Maxim Smith, 25, pleaded not guilty in D.C. Superior Court to one charge of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault with significant bodily injury while armed, the Washington Post reported.
The alleged attack came against the backdrop of Washington D.C. residents and police officers preparing for a “white civil rights” rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the violent white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Smith became angry when motorist Ketchazo Paho, who is Black, blew his car horn on Smith who was riding his bicycle slowly on a street in the Georgetown section on Aug. 6, according to prosecutors.
As Paho passed him, Smith struck the trunk of the car with an object. He attempted to pedal away from the scene when Paho stopped his vehicle. He grabbed Smith’s bicycle and began to call 911. In response, Smith called the Black man the N-word and repeatedly struck him in the head with a U-lock.
Paho was hospitalized with 18 stitches and staples in his head.
In the days after the attack, Paho said he had often been on the receiving end of racial slurs, according to the New York Times. However, verbal insults had never before escalated into physical attacks.
Paho’s attorney, Lee Merrit, said in a Facebook post that Paho is an American citizen of Cameroonian descent and an aerospace engineer.
“Paho, who is 6’4 and 260 lbs, recalls having to suppress the urge to retaliate against the violent attack by his assailant. He understood, that in this country, even a measured retaliatory response to an unprovoked assault by a white man would more than likely result in his arrest … or worse,” the civil rights attorney wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Korr urged the judge on Thursday to keep Smith in jail until the trial because he tested positive for drugs. A court officer testified that Smith had tested positive for drugs twice after his release from jail. Korr added that Smith was likely intoxicated when he assaulted Paho.
However, Judge Kimberley Knowles declined to order Smith to return to jail. Another hearing was scheduled for Feb. 1.
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