A driver identified as a 34-year-old Army veteran was targeting Muslims when a car barreled into a group of eight people Tuesday evening, California police say. The attack left seven injured, including a 13-year-old in critical condition.
Isaiah Joel Peoples was arrested at the scene. On Friday, he was charged with eight counts of attempted murder and held without bail in Santa Clara County.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Sunnyvale Police Chief Phan Ngo announced Friday that an investigation uncovered evidence that Peoples “intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith.” Ngo gave no details about the nature of the evidence.
The FBI was involved in the investigation because of the possibility that Tuesday’s attack was an act of terrorism, according to attorney Chuck Smith, who represents Peoples. But federal law enforcement quickly withdrew from the case, Smith told The Post on Saturday.
“They searched my client’s apartment, so we should know in short order whether there’s anything to the police chief’s statement,” he said.
On Saturday afternoon, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office had not yet opted to charge Peoples with a hate crime. But Chief Assistant District Attorney Jay Boyarsky condemned Tuesday’s incident as “a brazen attack on our entire community.”
Peoples’s arrest comes amid a spate of religiously motivated and hate-fueled attacks, both domestic and abroad.
As The Washington Post wrote in November, “reported hate crimes in America rose 17 percent last year, the third consecutive year that such crimes increased, according to newly released FBI data."
Fifty people were killed in a March terrorist attack at two New Zealand mosques; the man identified as the gunman reportedly embraced anti-Muslim and white-supremacist ideologies. The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, which left more than 250 dead and more than 500 injured, targeted a religious minority.
On Tuesday, Peoples’s vehicle went into the eight-person group as they crossed a Sunnyvale Avenue intersection, striking seven. Among them: a comatose 13-year-old girl with a broken pelvis and “severe brain swelling,” the Sacramento Bee reported. Several others have broken bones.
During a Thursday interview with the Sacramento Bee, Peoples’s mother said that her son has debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder since returning from Iraq and has experienced seizures and blackouts.
Peoples had an episode Tuesday evening, his mother said.
“In the last few years, California has enacted some wonderful legislation that allows for different treatment of veterans who have served in wartime,” Smith said. These include treatment, alternatives to incarceration and diversion programs.
Peoples would be a good fit for one of those, said Smith, who said his client has been under treatment for mental illness through the Department of Veterans Affairs.