Dozens of protesters gathered at an intersection in Los Angeles County in March 2021, waving colorful signs that read: “Stop Asian Hate” and “End the Violence Against Asians.”
He then rolled a black Honda into a crosswalk where some of the protesters, including a child, were walking, the indictment says. No one was injured, but the driver allegedly yelled racial slurs from the car while making a U-turn through the line of protesters.
Now, Steve Lee Dominguez, a 56-year-old resident of Diamond Bar and the driver of the car, has been charged with two counts of “bias-motivated interference” of a protest and faces up to 20 years in prison, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles announced Thursday. Dominguez was arrested Thursday and pleaded not guilty, a Department of Justice spokesman said. Dominguez could not be reached for comment, and it was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney.
The incident took place five days after a gunman fatally shot eight people, including six Asian women, at three Atlanta-area spas. The massacre stunned many in the Asian-Pacific Islander community, which was already on edge from a spike in racist attacks during the coronavirus pandemic.
The rally in Diamond Bar was one of several organized in Southern California in the wake of the Atlanta shootings, the Los Angeles Times reported. Diamond Bar, a 30-minute drive east of Los Angeles, is a city of 55,000 residents, 59 percent of whom are Asian.
As the demonstrators chanted and waved signs at all four corners of a busy intersection, one group of protesters crossed the crosswalk.
That is when Dominguez, stopped at a red light in his Honda, yelled, “Go back to China!” according to court records.
Prosecutors say Dominguez then drove into the crosswalk against the red light, cutting off some of the demonstrators. Then he made a U-turn in the intersection and again drove through the populated crosswalk, barely missing pedestrians — including a 9-year-old child, prosecutor say. As he did this, Dominguez again made a disparaging comment about China, the indictment states.
Dominguez then pulled his car over and continued to scream taunts and racial slurs at the rallygoers, prosecutors say. “I’ll be back,” Dominguez said, according to the indictment.
Identifying himself as “John Doe,” Dominguez later called the police and reported that the demonstrators had blocked the street and he was forced to run the red light “because they were about to trample my car," the indictment states. He allegedly asked the police to deploy crowd control.
Vicky Chang told KNBC at the time that she filmed part of the incident from the crosswalk. “I’ve been here for more than 10 years in America, and I’ve never had anybody talk in my face like that,” she told the station. “That was a big shock.”
Diamond Bar Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Chou told KCBS that he was also at the rally. He remarked on the high population of Asian residents in Diamond Bar. “This literally happened in the middle of an anti-Asian hate rally," he told the station, “so I think this serves as an unfortunate reminder that hate incidents can happen anywhere.”
A Justice Department spokesman said Dominguez’s trial is scheduled for July 5.