A Muslim cab driver who said a passenger berated and physically attacked him over his religion was awarded $350,000 in damages by a federal civil jury.
The jury in Alexandria, Virginia, found Monday that Ed Dahlberg assaulted Mohamed Salim in 2013 and that Dahlberg's actions were motivated by animosity toward the cabbie's religion. They awarded Salim $100,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.
Salim says he was punched by Dahlberg after Dahlberg spewed a stream of epithets at Salim because of his religion. Salim recorded parts of the encounter on his phone.
Salim sued Dahlberg in civil court in U.S. District Court in Alexandria after Fairfax County prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Dahlberg.
Dahlberg admits using bad language but denies injuring Salim. Dahlberg told The Washington Post in a phone call, "I'm ruined. I'm absolutely ruined."
The key piece of evidence was an 11-minute smartphone recording of the conversation between Salim and Dahlberg. The conversation began as a friendly one, but took a turn when Dahlberg asked Salim about jihad. Dahlberg, who acknowledged he was drunk, became enraged when he felt Salim was unwilling to denounce the Sept. 11 hijackers, and Dahlberg unleashed a stream of expletives about Salim and the Muslim faith.
The recording was not definitive in terms of confirming Salim's allegation that Dahlberg punched him multiple times, causing a hairline jaw fracture.
Dahlberg's lawyers questioned Salim's truthfulness, saying he lied about being a veteran of the Iraq War when he talked to reporters about the incident, as well as in a court deposition.
Defense lawyer Steven Bancroft said Dahlberg is apologetic about his language on the recording but "there is much more to this case than that tape."
Salim's lawyer, Victor Glasberg, told jurors at the outset of the trial that Salim is a refugee from Islamic extremism in his home country of Somalia who served in the U.S. Army reserves, albeit not in Iraq as he claimed. He said the recording speaks for itself and included "astonishing and horrific" verbal abuse.
"We're here because he was punched in the face, cursed and abused as a Muslim," Glasberg said.
This case comes on the heels of a rise in attacks on Muslims in the US.
The FBI is investigating an attack on a Muslim taxi driver in Pittsburgh who was shot in the back on Thanksgiving minutes after dropping off a customer in the city's Hazelwood section. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says the shooter asked the driver about his background and if he was from Pakistan. The group says the man asked about the Islamic State group and satirized the Prophet Muhammad, the Associated Press reported.
A spokesman with the FBI's Pittsburgh branch says investigators are reviewing the shooting the same way they review crimes that appear to be racially motivated