The dispute began — as so many do in the Washington area — at a red light. The signal went green, the first motorist hesitated and the second motorist hit the horn.
It ended, according to police in Montgomery County, in a hate crime.
Once the two cars started moving, police allege in court records filed Wednesday, the first driver could see that the other driver, and her young female passenger, were wearing hijab head coverings. The first driver slowed enough to let the two women pass and followed them into a parking lot. There, according to the records, that driver got out of her car, tossed a fragrant liquid on the women and yelled: “Get the hell out of the country you b----a-- Muslims!”
Much of the police’s case so far appears to be based on what the alleged victims told them.
In an interview Wednesday, the suspect, Kerlina Aviles, 27, strongly denied committing a hate crime. She spoke emotionally about Muslim friends she has had throughout her life. “This is outlandish,” said Aviles, a 27-year-old cook. “I am not anti-Muslim at all. The Muslim religion is beautiful.”
Aviles described the other driver as the instigator. She said that after that driver blared a horn at the intersection, the woman drove up to her, made an obscene hand gesture and tried to spit on her from her driver’s seat.
In the parking lot, where the argument escalated, Aviles acknowledged that she spoke sharply to the other driver, but she said she did so only after the woman tried to spit on her again and spoke in way that had no religious bias. She said: “Go back to where you came from, because here we don’t spit.”
The other driver and her daughter are of Northern African origin and are American citizens, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil-liberties group that has investigated the case. The suspect is of Caucasian-Hispanic descent and was born in Maryland, according to her and to court records.
Aviles was charged with two hate crime counts on Tuesday. She said she turned herself in at the Montgomery jail, where she said a police officer told her: “This is a ‘She-said-she-said’ situation.”
Aviles posted a $5,000 bond, was released and said she intends to file assault charges against the other driver and her daughter.
In the interview, she acknowledged following the other driver into the parking lot. “I just wanted to talk to them,” she said.
And she acknowledged that in the lot, she pulled out a bottle of Palmer’s coconut-scented baby oil and tossed oil on the woman, on her daughter and inside their car. “That was really childish of me. I mean, it was childish,” she said.
But she added that her insult about the other driver was born out of traffic-irritation, not religious bias: “I feel like I just acted out of frustration.”
“I think she is saying what is convenient to say,” countered the 17-year-old daughter who was in the other car.
In an interview Wednesday, the high school student, who asked not to be named, said she clearly remembered hearing Aviles make anti-Muslim remarks.
“It hurt,” the longtime Montgomery County resident said. “Because this is the first time someone has ever said anything like that to me.”
Interviews with Aviles and with the 17-year-old, as well as information in arrest documents filed by Montgomery police, provide additional details.
About 9 a.m. June 4, the 17-year-old and her mother were in their Honda CR-V at Germantown and Middlebrook roads, headed to a doctor’s appointment, the girl said. When the light turned green, the driver ahead of them “appeared to be distracted by using her cell-phone,” police wrote in arrest records.
The CR-V driver honked, prompting the driver ahead of her to move forward, records state.
The driver in front then extended her left hand out the window, making an obscene signal toward the CR-V, the teen said. The driver of the car slowed down enough to let the CR-V move ahead.
Aviles, the driver of the car, tells a different version. She said in an interview that after her car and the CR-V started moving, it was the CR-V driver who pulled up to her and made an obscene gesture. Aviles said she brushed it off, owing to life on Washington roadways. “It happens all the time,” she recalled Wednesday.
Then, Aviles said, the CR-V driver rolled down her window, tried to spit at Aviles and continued her obscene gestures. Aviles said she decided to follow the CR-V and stopped in the parking lot. In short order, all three women were out of their vehicles.
In the parking lot, Aviles said she squirted baby oil at the women but did not push or hit them. Aviles said the CR-V driver continued to spit at her and hit her, and the teenage daughter pushed her.
Not so, according to the daughter, who said Aviles was the aggressor, hitting her on the side of her left arm and saying, “You go back to your country.” As they walked away, according to the girl, Aviles made two anti-Muslim comments. The teenager said she called the police.
She said on Wednesday that her mother seemed more willing to let the incident pass.
“She said it’s better to forget and forgive,” the teen said.
Her father and sister, who also spoke in interviews, said the incident has jolted their family. “We are citizens. We live here. This is our country,” the father said, adding that he has Christian and Jewish friends in the diverse communities of Germantown, where he lives, and Rockville, where he works. “We’ve never had this problem.”
For her part, Aviles said that even if she files charges, she would not like to see either side suffer long-term consequences.
“I hope that it will get worked out,” she said. “I hope we both learned our lesson.”
The case, with a somewhat complicated paper trail, dates back three weeks.
On June 7, Montgomery Police Officer H. Simon went to a court commissioner and applied for two counts of misdemeanor assault against Aviles, according to court records. The charged were issued in the form of a summons.
Simon returned to the commissioner on June 16 and applied for additional charges: two counts each of religious-based harassment and malicious destruction of property. For reasons not entirely clear, he got only the additional destruction-of-property charges.
On June 18, Simon again applied for the religious-based harassment charges. The commissioner approved the charges and issued a warrant, which was served to Aviles on Tuesday.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.