- Associated Press - Thursday, January 14, 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A California bus driver wearing a turban was called a suicide bomber during an attack that left him hospitalized, but officers failed to recognize the assault as a hate crime, a Sikh advocacy group representing the man said Thursday.

Balwinder Jit Singh, 56, had just pulled over the Metro bus he was driving in Inglewood on Nov. 6 when a passenger attacked him, said Gurjot Kaur, Singh’s lawyer and a senior staff attorney with the New York-based Sikh Coalition.

The attacker beat Singh while saying he was a terrorist and a suicide bomber and had hijacked the bus, Kaur said.

She said Singh was left with a black eye, his face and jaw were bruised and swollen, and his eye got infected. Now two months later, he said he has blurred vision and pain.

“Psychologically and physically, it was traumatic,” Kaur said. “It’s very frightening to be attacked in that way.”

The 33-year-old attacker was arrested on an assault charge the next day, but the sergeant handling the case indicated Singh didn’t mention the attacker’s statements, said Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The assailant’s name was not released.

Sheriff’s Capt. Karl Schow said the agency is now investigating the hate-crime allegations after receiving additional information. He said the attacker’s statements may not have been reported because of victim stress or because of a language barrier.

“We do investigate hate crimes. We take them very seriously,” Schow said. “We’re absolutely doubling back and going to add that to the investigation.”

Kaur said that Singh speaks conversational English and that there may have been a language barrier, but that he insists that he reported the attacker’s statements to investigators.

“Initially, I don’t believe they did enough,” Kaur said. “I believe once racial slurs were brought to their attention, they should have labeled it as a hate crime.”

A workplace-incident report provided to The Associated Press shows that Singh told his employer the day of the attack that the passenger had called him a terrorist and was driving the bus with a bomb on board.

An investigator is scheduled to do another interview with Singh next week.

In December, the White House convened meetings of Muslim and Sikh leaders to discuss an increase in hate crimes against their houses of worship and individual members of their faiths in the wake of Islamic-extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

Sikhs, who wear turbans, are often mistaken for Muslims.


Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP. Her work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/amanda-lee-myers.

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