A Marine veteran received no jail time after attacking an employee at an Iraqi-American owned restaurant last year in Oregon, because the attack was driven by wartime trauma, not hate, prosecutors said.
Damien Rodriguez was sentenced to five years of probation and fined $21,000 on Friday, The Oregonian reported. In April 2017, Rodriguez hit a waiter on the head with a chair at Portland’s DarSalam restaurant and said, “I’m American, you guys aren’t American,” according to police reports reviewed by The Daily Beast.
The waiter did not suffer any serious injuries, and was given $11,000 dollars of the larger sum that Rodriguez was ordered to pay at the case’s conclusion. The other $10,000 of the fine was given to a DarSalam server.
A friend who accompanied Rodriguez to the restaurant in April told police that the former sergeant major was having a “flashback inside of the restaurant.” A police report also stated that Rodriguez appeared to be drunk. According to employee statements given to the police, while Rodriguez was in the restaurant for about 30 minutes, he told employees to shake his hand, started talking about how many people he killed in Iraq, and later said, “Fuck Iraq.” Staff members at DarSalam called the police after he hit the waiter.
“My family, they have fear now in everything—we can’t forget this,” Ghaith Sahib told The New York Times months after the attack. Ghaith immigrated to the United States after surviving a 2005 bomb attack in Baghdad. The Sahibs opened up DarSalam in Portland to show a “kinder side of Iraq to America,” according to the Times report.
Rodriguez was subsequently charged with second-degree counts of assault, disorderly conduct, and intimidation. Oregon law classifies intimidation, physical contact based on assumption of race or nationality, as a hate crime.
A local prosecutor told The Oregonian that they attributed the 41-year-old’s attack to “a byproduct of trauma from his military service.”
Rodriguez sought treatment for PTSD and substance abuse after the attack, the Times reported. The former sergeant major and Bronze Star recipient was a part of a major 2004 Iraq operation that led to the deaths of a dozen of his fellow Marines.
Sean Riddell, Rodriguez’s lawyer, said that he gave prosecutors letters from his client’s physicians and interviews with Iraq and Afghanistan interpreters that worked with Damien during combat as proof of post traumatic stress disorder and “lack of racist intent.”
During the trial, Rodriguez issued a formal apology to the owners and employees of DarSalam.
“Words will not undo what happened, how I reacted violently and irrationally, seemingly out of nowhere and frightened you and your patrons,” wrote Rodriguez in his apology to the Sahibs.
Sean Davis, a veteran and friend of the Sahibs, told The Daily Beast that he’s been following the ordeal since the April incident.
“I’m happy he’s getting help for PTSD that he needed. It shouldn’t be a get-out-of-jail free card just because you’re a veteran.”