A woman charged with assaulting another woman at a Coon Rapids Applebee's for not speaking English will not be charged with a bias crime because it could lead to a lesser charge, the Anoka County Attorney's Office said Thursday.
Jodie Burchard-Risch, 43, was charged earlier this month with third-degree assault after she allegedly yelled at Asma Jama, who had been speaking Swahili. When staff tried to get Burchard-Risch to leave, she refused and then smashed a beer mug across Jama's face and fled, charges say.
The Minnesota Council on Islamic-American Relations said she should face hate-crime charges in addition to the assault charge, but Paul Young, with the Anoka County Attorney's Office, told MPR News she won't face those charges.
Young said based on state law, if she is charged with a bias crime "we run the risk of a conviction of a lower level offense and we don't want to do that" – a bias crime charge would be considered a gross misdemeanor in Minnesota, he told MPR News.
"We know that this was a crime that appears to be based on hatred and bias. We are considering that and we'll keep analyzing what role that plays in sentencing," Young told the news station.
Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo tells KSTP “The charge we levied in this case is actually a 5-year felony against her. So, the penalties are much greater.”
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Jama told MPR 17 stitches were needed to close the wound on her lip after the attack. She said the incident has left her traumatized, adding "I'm actually thinking about moving out of Minnesota. I'm scared for my life. I don't feel comfortable here anymore."
After the incident was reported last week, supporters of Jama contributed more than $10,000 to a fund for her – which more than doubled the goal organizers of the fund had set.
Over the weekend, dozens attended a rally in front of Coon Rapids city hall to show solidarity with Jama.