An East Palo Alto man has been charged with hate crimes and robberies after a two-month spree during which he is accused of targeting at least 14 South Asian women, tearing necklaces off their necks and speeding away in a getaway car.
In several of the brazen robberies this year, prosecutors said Lathan Johnson, 37, injured the women, who ranged in age from 50-73.
The Santa Clara Police Department and the U.S. Marshal’s Office apprehended Johnson, but the first agency to tie him to the crimes was the Milpitas Police Department. They were able to connect him to a getaway car, according to a statement by District Attorney Jeff Rosen.
Johnson was to be arraigned on the hate crime charges at 9am today in the Hall of Justice in San Jose. He faces prison time, if convicted.
“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,” Rosen said. “Santa Clara County’s precious diversity is our strength, our superpower – not a criminal opportunity.”
The spree began in June. Over the next weeks, South Asian women – almost always wearing a sari, bindi, or other types of ethnic attire, were targeted in San Jose, Milpitas, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, according to a statement released by Rosen’s office.
In one case, the victim was walking with her husband down a Milpitas street when Johnson approached and asked for directions. The defendant then walked up behind them and pushed the woman to the ground and punched her husband in the face and then pushed him to the ground. He ripped a thousand-dollar necklace off the woman’s neck and jumped into a car and sped away. The woman suffered a broken wrist, and her husband was treated for a possible broken nose.
The estimated worth of all the stolen necklaces is about $35,000.
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 spree of purse snatchings. Those cases are pending.