The Anoka County attorney’s office said Thursday that a felony assault charge will stand against the woman who allegedly attacked a diner at the Coon Rapids Applebee’s for speaking Swahili.
The victim, Asma Jama, suffered deep cuts to her face when she was assaulted Oct. 30 with a beer mug as she ate lunch, Anoka County authorities said. Jodie Burchard-Risch, 43, of Ramsey, was charged in Anoka County District Court with third-degree assault.
Last week, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) called for hate-crime charges against Burchard-Risch.
Paul Young, criminal division chief of the Anoka County attorney’s office, said that in Minnesota, crimes based on bias are gross misdemeanors.
“We absolutely recognize the truth and the ugliness of the crime, but we are also going to do our job and try to make the punishment fit the crime, and a gross misdemeanor doesn’t do that,” Young said. “All we are doing is saying that for some reason the Minnesota Legislature said a bias assault or a hate crime in Minnesota is a gross misdemeanor.
“We’re saying that’s not good enough,” he said. “This woman was hurt significantly. … We are still evaluating the evidence, and we’ll continue to do that.”
According to the criminal complaint, Burchard-Risch was dining with her husband when she overheard Jama, who was sitting in a nearby booth with her family, speaking in a language that wasn’t English. “[Burchard-Risch] and her husband were upset that [the victim] was speaking in a foreign language,” the complaint said. Burchard-Risch began to yell at the woman.
Restaurant managers tried to get Burchard-Risch to leave, but she refused. She continued to shout at Jama and then threw a drink on her, according to the complaint.
Burchard-Risch then smashed her beer mug across the victim’s face in a “round house punch” motion before fleeing, causing significant injuries, according to the complaint.
An Applebee’s manager followed Burchard-Risch until Coon Rapids police officers caught up with her and arrested her.
Jama, who immigrated to the United States from Kenya, where Swahili is one of several common languages, suffered deep cuts on her nose, right eyebrow and lower lip, according to the complaint.
The incident drew widespread attention and prompted an outpouring of public support for Jama. On Sunday, residents and city officials held a solidarity event in Jama’s honor at the Coon Rapids Center.