A Southern California man accused of driving through a crowd of “Stop Asian Hate” protesters in 2021 pleaded guilty on Thursday to a federal civil rights charge.
Steve Lee Dominguez, 57, of Diamond Bar, pleaded guilty to one felony count of bias-motivated interference with federally protected activities, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
“Mr. Dominguez’s decision to attack a peaceful rally meant to raise awareness of anti-Asian hate was both unlawful and un-American,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement. “My Office will remain steadfast in our commitment to safeguard civil rights against those who would seek to undermine our constitutional rights.”
Public defenders Kate L. Morris and Ijeoma Uchechi Eke, who represent Dominguez, did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
The guilty plea comes almost two years after Dominguez drove through the Los Angeles rally, which took place in the wake of shootings at three Atlanta-area spas, the press release said. A gunman had fatally shot eight people at the spas, six of whom were Asian women. The shooter, Robert Aaron Long, pleaded guilty to four of the killings and was sentenced to life in prison in Cherokee County, Georgia, in 2021. In Fulton County, he has entered a not-guilty plea to charges including murder, aggravated assault and domestic terrorism, and could face the death penalty if convicted.
At the Los Angeles rally, while protesters were crossing an intersection, Dominguez approached them in a black Honda sedan and began yelling statements like “Go back to China” and other slurs, according to the press release. He narrowly missed pedestrians when he “deliberately” drove his car through a crosswalk at a red light, made an illegal U-turn, and cut off the route of several participants including a 9-year-old child, and another minor, who is Black, carrying an “End the Violence Against Asians” sign, the press release said. He also cut off an Asian woman carrying a “Stop Asian Hate” poster.
At one point, Dominguez allegedly got out of his car and continued to yell racial slurs, including the N-word, at the protesters before calling the police and identifying himself as “John Doe” to falsely report that rallygoers had been blocking the street, forcing him to run a red light “because they were about to trample my car,” the release said.
No injuries were reported in the incident.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 6, 2024. Dominguez, who has remained free on $30,000 bond since his initial arrest, faces up to a year in prison.
“We will continue to work with our partners to address these types of violations, where individuals who were simply calling for an end to violence were senselessly attacked,” said Donald Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
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