An East Palo Alto man who allegedly ripped the necklaces from the necks of 14 South Asian women has been charged with robbery and hate crimes, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office said in a statement on Monday, Oct. 3.
Lathan Johnson, 37, allegedly attacked the women over two months, tearing the necklaces from the victims and speeding away in a car. In several of the robberies, he injured the women, who ranged in age from 50-73. The estimated worth of all the stolen necklaces is about $35,000, the DA's office stated.
The spree began in June. During the following weeks, South Asian women – almost always wearing a sari, bindi or other type of ethnic attire – were targeted in San Jose, Milpitas, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara.
In one case, the victim was walking with her husband down a Milpitas street when Johnson allegedly approached and asked for directions. According to the DA's Office, he then walked behind the couple, pushed the woman to the ground, punched her husband in the face and then pushed him to the ground. He allegedly ripped a $1,000 necklace from the woman’s neck in that incident.
The woman suffered a broken wrist; her husband was treated for a possible broken nose.
The Santa Clara Police Department and the U.S. Marshal’s Office apprehended Johnson, but the Milpitas Police Department was the first agency to tie him to the crimes, allegedly connecting him to a getaway car.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said he will pursue convictions of anyone who attacks people on the basis of their race or ethnicity.
"I say to our South Asian community that anyone who targets and attacks you will be arrested and treated with the utmost severity under our law. Santa Clara County’s precious diversity is our strength, our superpower – not a criminal opportunity,” Rosen said in the press statement.
Johnson will be arraigned on the hate crime charges Tuesday at 9 a.m. in San Jose. He faces prison time, if convicted. The DA and South Asian community leaders will attend the hearing.
Late last year, the Santa Clara DA’s Office charged a group of men with hate crimes and robbery for targeting Asian women during a purse-snatching spree. Those cases are pending.