Prosecutors filed hate-crime allegations against Army veteran Isaiah Joel Peoples in the targeted April car attack on a crowded Sunnyvale crosswalk that injured eight people, including a 13-year-old girl who remains in critical condition.
“Prejudice is not harmless. Someone’s child is in critical condition today because of somebody’s ignorance and hatred,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jay Rosen said in a statement Thursday morning announcing the new allegations.
Rosen vowed that his office will hold Peoples to account “for the pain and destruction his abhorrent act has caused the eight people he struck, and our entire community.”
Hours later, a new seven-page complaint filed at Santa Clara Hall of Justice outlined the allegations: Peoples “committed a felony that is a hate crime and attempted to commit a felony offense that is a hate crime” against the 13-year-old and her father.
Doctors were forced to remove a portion of the critically injured 13-year-old girl’s skull to relieve what prosecutors described as “severe brain swelling.” Her father and younger brother were among those injured in the alleged hate attack. Yet others were left with broken arms and legs.
Santa Clara County prosecutors say Peoples, the 34-year-old Army veteran who was raised in Sacramento and graduated from Sacramento State, deliberately rammed the pedestrians crossing El Camino Real at Sunnyvale Avenue and targeted at least two of the group because he thought they were Muslim or Indian.
Hate-crime allegations can be filed when a defendant targets a person or group due to their disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
Peoples was slated to appear Thursday afternoon in Santa Clara Superior Court on the hate crime counts. He remains held without bail in Santa Clara County jail on eight counts of attempted murder plus a special circumstance of using a car to commit the crimes.
He faces life in prison if convicted.
Peoples, a Department of Defense auditor with no prior criminal record, had recently moved to the South Bay for his job and had joined a local Bible study group. He was said to have been on his way to the study group in his Toyota Corolla sedan when witnesses said he accelerated through the group in the crosswalk.
Thursday’s filing had been anticipated for several weeks – Sunnyvale police Chief Pham Ngo called in the FBI soon after the violent incident, and agents launched a joint investigation with local authorities into the alleged attack.
Early into his investigators’ probe, Ngo said evidence showed Peoples’ actions were motivated by the victims’ race “and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith,” but stopped short of calling the April attack a hate crime. Chief Assistant DA Jay Boyarsky said at the time that “very appalling and disturbing evidence” emerged that pointed to a deliberate attack.
But Peoples’ mother in a Sacramento Bee interview after her son’s arrest said she believed Peoples blacked out behind the wheel. Leevell Peoples said her son struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered seizures and blackouts upon returning home from military duty in Iraq.
Peoples’ attorney Chuck Smith in an interview with the Bee had said Peoples was treated at a Menlo Park Veterans Administration facility and said he had ordered VA records to look into Peoples’ medical history and “other co-occurring issues.”