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Prison for man who lost TSA job over off-duty hate crime against Somali

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH
  • Star Tribune
  • December 1, 2011 - 7:16 AM

A Minneapolis man who lost his job with the Transportation Security Administration for an off-duty assault of an elderly Somali man has been sentenced to six months in prison for the hate crime.

George Thompson, 64, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Minneapolis under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Thompson's case was the first prosecuted under the act.

Signed into law in October 2009, the act was named after Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teen who died after being kidnapped and beaten in 1998, and James Byrd, Jr., a black man who was dragged to death in Texas that same year.

"Physical violence motivated by racial or religious hatred exacerbates fear and tears at the fabric of our society," B. Todd Jones, U.S. attorney for Minnesota, said in a statement issued after Thompson's sentencing. "Here in Minnesota, we have vibrant and diverse communities and should be celebrating that fact, not assaulting people because of it."

Thompson also was charged in state court about three months after the May 4, 2010, assault in another bias-inspired attack on the same street as the earlier incident, but that allegation was dropped once the federal case was filed.

According to the criminal complaint in the dismissed case:

Thompson approached a man and asked him whether he was Somali. The man said he was, prompting Thompson to chase and threaten to kill him. The man found refuge with police officers who were nearby.

Thompson then went into a neighborhood bar, where he was arrested. He was drunk and had two loaded firearms with him and a permit to carry them.

Both incidents cost Thompson his job checking screened baggage with the Transportation Security Administration. He worked for eight years with the federal agency that provides security to the nation's airports.

Agency spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said Tuesday that she couldn't address the specifics of Thompson's case, but added that the TSA "holds its security officers to the highest professional and ethical standards, both on and off the job."

According to court documents in the federal case:

Thompson was leaving a bar in his Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and "punched or shoved" an 82-year-old Somali man without provocation. The man nearly fell.

"You Muslims, go back to your country," witnesses reported Thompson as saying, along with, "You Somali, go back to your country."

The defense acknowledged that Thompson was embarrassed and sorry for the assault, but also noted that the defendant was frustrated by trouble that Somali youth had been causing in his neighborhood.

The defense pointed out that Thompson and others were subjected to threats, assaults, robberies and indecent exposure from Somali youth.

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