Suspect in Sunnyvale car attack charged with hate crimes

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — A man accused of attempted murder after driving into a group of eight people in Sunnyvale last month was charged with hate crimes enhancements in Santa Clara County Superior Court on May 30.

Isaiah Peoples, 34, allegedly targeted three people at an El Camino Real crosswalk on April 23 because he perceived them to be Muslim or Indian, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. A 13-year-old girl was hospitalized with major injuries after the attack and remains in the hospital in critical condition.

Peoples was charged with eight counts of attempted murder in April, and prosecutors on May 30 added hate crime enhancements to the attempted murder of the 13-year-old girl and her father, who are both Indian.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen outside of court did not elaborate on the details that led to hate crime charges, but said his office is confident in evidence that will emerge during a preliminary examination. He recalled racist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Poway in San Diego County, and addressed the Indian and Muslim communities in the Bay Area.

“When you are attacked because of your race, your religion, national origin … whatever the reason for the attack on you — it’s an attack on me, and my family, and on all of us as Americans,” Rosen said.

Rosen said he spoke with the 13-year-old girl’s father on the morning of May 30, and though the family is traumatized, he thanked the public for their prayers. The girl’s medical condition and that of other victims are currently being kept private.

Two of Peoples’ cousins were at the courtroom before the hearing, and said prosecutors’ depiction of the attack was shocking, and at odds with everything they knew about their cousin. Peoples was a war veteran in the U.S. Army who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the family. He had picked up food on his way to a bible study class when the attack occurred.

His family is mixed-race, mixed-religion and Muslim celebrations have always been embraced in their household, family members said. Thomas Miller, who described himself as Peoples’ cousin, said the hate crime charges were being used to stir up public frenzy in the case.

Another cousin, Michelle, said she’s been speaking with Peoples at the jail. He was always a quiet, gentle man who “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” she said, and has been speaking even less after being jailed.

The FBI was called to assist in the investigation on the day of the attack and is assisting the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety with their investigation. Though hate crimes violate federal law, the case will be prosecuted locally, according to Rosen.

The details of the case are still under investigation, and prosecutors and public safety officers are working to determine if a mental illness or disorder played a role in the attack.

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