A D.C. Superior Court jury found a white bicyclist guilty Wednesday of assaulting a black motorist last August in Georgetown but deadlocked on whether the attack was racially motivated, a finding that could have added years at sentencing.
At trial, testimony showed the bicyclist, Maxim Smith, repeatedly called the driver, Ketchazo Paho, the n-word while violently striking him in the head with a metal bike lock.
Their confrontation unfolded in the overnight hours as Smith slowly biked in the center lane of the 3100 block of M Street NW ahead of a frustrated Paho, who began honking his horn.
Federal prosecutors charged Smith, 25, with assault with a dangerous weapon and felony assault while armed, as well as destruction of property.
According to authorities, Smith was biking westward about 1:30 a.m. in front of Paho, 35, of Bethesda.
Paho testified that he was unable to pass Smith and became angry and honked his horn. As Paho passed Smith, police said, Smith reached out and hit his car trunk.
Smith testified he used his hand. But Paho said he believed Smith used something heavier and damaged his vehicle. Paho said he stopped his car, began to call 911 and grabbed Smith’s bike to detain him as Smith tried to pedal away.
It was then, prosecutors said, that Smith repeatedly used the racial slur and hit Paho in the head with his bicycle’s metal U-lock.
Paho received 21 stitches. At trial, several witnesses said they saw Smith attack Paho verbally and physically.
Prosecutors said Smith’s use of the racist slur was evidence he attacked Paho because he was black. Smith’s attorneys argued Smith was not a racist and was acting in self-defense.
The case emerged as an example of growing tension in the District among some bicyclists and motorists, as well as on the basis of race and class. Smith told police he originally thought Paho was an Uber driver who did not live in Georgetown and grew angry over the horn blast and having the police called in. “This was about anger, entitlement and arrogance,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Korba said during closing arguments Tuesday.
Smith testified that he used the derogatory term to “emotionally hurt” Paho because he thought Paho had tried to strike him with his car.
“I was trying to hurt him without physically hurting him. I am ashamed. That is not how I was raised,” he told the jury. Then, when Paho grabbed his bike, Smith said, he hit him with the lock to “get him off me.”
Smith showed no visible reaction when the verdicts were read. He will remain in the D.C. jail until sentencing in August. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Paho testified that at first he thought that Smith damaged his vehicle when he hit the trunk of his car and wanted to detain Smith until police arrived to view what be believed to be the damage. However, Paho said he later saw there was no damage at that spot.
Smith testified that English was his second language. He was born in Ukraine and was adopted and moved to Washington in 2006 when he was 13. Smith said he learned English in school and learned the n-word growing up in Northwest Washington and “listening to rap music.”
During closing arguments, Justin Okezie, one of Smith’s attorneys, implored jurors not to let Smith’s use of the n-word “prejudice” them into thinking his client hit Paho out of a racial motivation.
The jury comprised four whites, seven blacks and one Hispanic. Outside court, the jurors said they reached the verdicts of guilty on the assault charges and acquitted Smith on the destruction of property during their first hour of deliberations.
The challenge, several jurors said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss their private deliberations, was reaching a consensus on the racial-bias enhancement. After two days of deliberations, the jurors were split, with eight finding Smith’s attack was racially motivated and four saying race was not a factor.
The 40-year-old forewoman, said the jurors who voted against the racial enhancement were black and white.