A Texas man has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for an assault against an Asian family at a Sam's Club store in what officials have described as a "hate crime" stemming from coronavirus-related discrimination.
Jose Gomez III, 21, of Midland, Texas, pleaded guilty to attacking an Asian family with young children on March 14, 2020, because he believed the Chinese were responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Pandemic-driven and racially-motivated acts of violence are deplorable crimes, and the Justice Department stands ready to use our hate crimes laws to hold perpetrators accountable," Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a Thursday statement. "Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have spiked during the pandemic and must be confronted. All people deserve to feel safe and secure living in their communities, regardless of race, color or national origin."
Gomez did not know the family but assumed they were Chinese and proceeded to follow them around because he believed they were a "threat" from the country that "started spreading that disease around," according to the Justice Department, citing statements made during his guilty plea.
He momentarily left the family to find a steak knife in the store and bent the knife so that the edge was facing outward as he grasped the handle in his fist.
Gomez then found the family and punched the father in his face, cutting him in the process, before leaving them again to find another 8-inch knife in the store.
Once again, Gomez returned to the family, slashing one of their two young children – a 6-year-old boy. Gomez left a cut on the boy's face that wrapped all the way around to the back of his head. The cut was millimeters from the 6-year-old's right eye and his right ear, according to the DOJ.
Gomez also stabbed a white Sam's Club employee who intervened to stop the assault. While others held Gomez down, he yelled, "Get out of America!" at the family.
The 21-year-old admitted in court that he had been attempting to kill the child, but the store employee prevented him from doing so, the DOJ said in a press release.
"Mr. Gomez's cowardly and racially motivated actions do not represent our West Texas community," FBI El Paso Special Agent in Charge Jeffery Downey said. "It is our hope today's sentence will help the victims with the healing process. Rest assured, the FBI and our law enforcement partners will aggressively pursue anyone who commits these violent acts to ensure the civil rights of all Americans are protected."
Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney Ashley Hoff said Gomez's 25-year sentence "sends the message loud and clear that our office will aggressively prosecute federal hate crimes while seeking justice for victims" and that hate crimes "will not be tolerated."
Stop Anti-Asian Pacific-Islander Hate (Stop AAPI Hate), an organization dedicated to tracking and combating hate crimes against Asian victims, recorded 9,000 anti-Asian incidents ranging from verbal to physical harassment between March 2020 and June 2021.
The reports aggregated by Stop AAPI Hate are from the victims themselves or from someone reporting on their behalf, like an adult child. Overall, the report found verbal harassment and shunning — interactions that don’t qualify legally as hate crimes — make up the two largest shares of total incidents.
Physical assaults made up the third. But their percentage of the incidents this year increased from 2020 — 16.6% compared to 10.8%.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.