A 22-year-old man was charged this week with assault and committing a hate crime after he was accused of choking a Sikh Uber driver, calling him names and deriding his turban.

According to documents filed in Whatcom County Superior Court, the driver was summoned last week to an apartment complex on Barkley Boulevard, where he picked up a passenger, drove him to get fast food and cigarettes and then returned to the apartments.

The driver says that, when they returned to the apartment complex’s parking lot around 4 a.m. Thursday, the passenger began physically and verbally assaulting him, grabbing him by his neck, compressing his throat, and saying derogatory things about his dark skin, turban and Indian origins, according to the charging document.

The driver fled the car and called police, according to the document.

Grifin Sayers, of Bellingham, is charged with second-degree assault and malicious harassment, Washington state’s hate-crime statute. He is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 13 in Whatcom County Superior Court.

Male followers of the peaceful Sikh religion, which originated in India, wear turbans to symbolize equality. Leaders of the faith say they have been disproportionately targeted in hate crimes.


Washington is home to about 60,000 to 75,000 practicing Sikhs and 15 houses of worship, according to the Sikh Coalition, a civil-rights organization focused on bias-motivated incidents. The group, which monitors public media accounts and hate crimes reported to law enforcement, estimates that Washington is the third most dangerous state in the nation for Sikhs, behind California and New York.

Attacks targeting Sikhs nearly tripled nationwide between 2017 and 2018, according to FBI statistics on hate crime.

Over the years, Sikh cabdrivers have been common targets in Washington.

In 2013, a Federal Way man pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the 2009 Matthew Shepard And James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by assaulting a Sikh taxi driver so violently that the driver lost a tooth and chunks of his beard, and he had to be hospitalized for more than a week with injuries to his back, shoulder and kidney.

An Orange Cab driver from Kent reported in 2007 that a drunken passenger had punched him, bit off a piece of his scalp, called him an “Iraqi terrorist” and threatened to kill him. The man charged in the crime had been kicked out of the Apple Cup football game at Husky Stadium, and Seattle police had placed the intoxicated man in the cab to get him “safe transport” home, The Seattle Times reported at the time.

A San Diego man visiting SeaTac pleaded guilty to malicious harassment in the Sept. 13, 2001, assault of a Sikh driver for Farwest Taxi who he’d accused of being a terrorist.

“Hate crimes are deeply traumatic for the individual, but they also send ripple effects through the entire community,” Dr. Jasmit Singh wrote in a statement released Wednesday by the Sikh Coalition in response to the charges filed against Sayers. “A hate crime against one is an act of aggression against all — and likewise, the decision to prosecute this case represents a commitment to protecting all of Washington’s Sikh residents. We are grateful for that commitment.”