ST. CLOUD, Minn. - A Willmar man is charged with bias-motivated assault after a Somali cab driver said he was choked by a passenger while driving from downtown St. Cloud to a bar east of the city.
Zachary Todd Degraw, 23, was in Benton County District Court this week to face charges of assault motivated by bias, a gross misdemeanor, and two counts of misdemeanor fifth-degree assault.
The alleged assault happened early March 25 when the cab driver picked up Degraw and a woman in St. Cloud. He was driving them to Rollie's Rednecks & Longnecks bar east of St. Cloud when Degraw, who was seated in the back seat of the cab, put his arm around the cab driver's neck and began to choke him, according to a criminal complaint charging him.
The cab driver was unable to breathe or call his dispatcher and had difficulty keeping his cab in the lane of traffic. The cab swerved from side to side on Minnesota Highway 23 until the driver slammed on the brakes, stopping the cab as it was pointed to the ditch.
Degraw released his hold on the cab driver, who then called for help.
The woman in the cab with Degraw "told deputies that the defendant was racist," according to the complaint. She told deputies that Degraw attacked and choked the driver, according to the complaint.
When investigators asked Degraw what happened, he told them he believed that the cab driver was going to call some of his friends. When investigators told him that didn't make sense, he said he thought the driver was going to call someone within his own race.
Degraw was questioned more about that statement and told investigators "Well, he is Muslim."
Degraw denied choking the cab driver. Then he asked investigators a question.
"You tell me, do you not know what these Muslims will do with a white American girl?" the complaint quotes him as saying.
He also asked a deputy if he trusted Muslims and told that deputy a story about how he had been wronged by a Muslim in the past.