A white bicycle rider accused of striking a black motorist with a metal bike lock was ordered into home detention Thursday, as federal officials said they are considering prosecuting the case as a hate crime.
Maxim Smith, 24, of Northwest D.C., is charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. Police said that during a Monday altercation with a motorist, Smith repeatedly called him the n-word.
During a hearing Thursday in D.C. Superior Court, Atiq Ahmed, Smith’s attorney, argued that the incident was “an interaction” between a cyclist and a motorist that “is commonly referred to as road rage and is quite common” and did not rise to the level of a hate crime.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Gauri Gopal described the assault as “a violent crime” and said her office is investigating whether it should be considered a hate crime.
According to charging documents, the incident unfolded just after 1 a.m. as Smith was biking westbound in the center lane in the 3100 block of M Street NW in Georgetown.
Kethezo Paho, 34, of Bethesda was in his black Ford Fusion behind Smith and, according to police, became angry that Smith was riding slowly and began honking his horn. As the driver went past Smith, police said, Smith reached out and hit his car trunk with an object.
Paho then stopped his car and threatened to call police to report the damage. As Smith tried to pedal away, the driver grabbed the bike while trying to call 911. Smith then repeatedly called the driver the racial slur, police said, and struck him in the head with the U-lock.
“All the victim did, your honor, was call the police,” Gopal said.
Judge Joseph E. Beshouri said he would not focus on the allegations of Smith’s “offensive language.”
Beshouri released Smith into the custody of his father, who was in the audience, and placed him on home confinement for 14-days.
A multiracial group of about half a dozen of Smith’s friends attended the hearing. Afterward, they defended their former Woodrow Wilson High School classmate.
Jade Marr said that on the night of the attack, she, Smith and other friends attended a party where Smith had “a couple of beers.” Marr said the attack was not racially motivated.
“Look at us. All of his friends are black. He is not a racist. That has never been who he is,” she said. “He knows better than to say that word.”
Marr said that Smith, who works as a bicycle mechanic, had nearly been struck by motorists in the past while on his bicycle and that she thinks that fueled the incident.
In a telephone interview after the hearing, Paho said he is recovering from having 18 stitches and several staples placed in his head.
“Just because you have black friends doesn’t mean you can’t be a racist,” said Paho, who moved to the Washington area from Cameroon in 2002.
“I want justice regardless,” said Paho, who works in innovation manufacturing. “He assaulted me. I have a scar on my head. And he put it there.”