A Bronx, N.Y., legal assistant and his attorney are pushing for assault charges to be upgraded to a hate crime after a pizza-maker allegedly brutally attacked him outside a New York City pizzeria.
Quevaughn Caruth was just getting a slice with friends when, he says, Ali Essa, the former manager of La Vera Pizzeria, lashed out at him with a wooden pizza peel, causing serious injury.
It all started one evening back in March when Caruth stopped at La Vera Pizzeria, in Manhattan, to grab a bite with friends. Everything was going normally: Caruth ordered a slice of pizza and an iced tea, paid for his items and then went to stand by the counter to wait on his friends to finish ordering.
Things almost immediately went awry. Caruth told The Root that he had just taken a bite of his pizza when he was immediately told by an employee from around the counter to “get out.”
“I asked ‘for what’ because I’m waiting for my friends to get their pizza,” Caruth recalled.
However, he did not get an answer and was only repeatedly told to “get out.”
The Bronx native, who is a legal assistant at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, waited for his friends regardless, but then walked out when everyone was ready to go.
That’s when the unidentified employee came around the counter and started following Caruth and his party outside, Caruth said.
Caruth said that the employee called him the n-word as he continued to harass him outside the store.
What happened next stunned everyone.
The store manager, Ali Essa, allegedly came running outside the store, striking Caruth in the face with a pizza peel—the heavy, dense wooden block that is used to transport the pies.
Caruth was knocked unconscious and sustained massive injuries to his face. He was rushed to a local medical center and had to receive stitches. He was left with a visible, permanent scar on his face that he will have to live with.
The entire situation, which escalated quickly without any prior confrontation, left Caruth shaken.
“It was pretty random to me as someone who pretty frequently buys pizza,” the 24-year-old said.
However, he did note that at the time, he was the only black person in the store, leading him to believe that the attack was racially charged.
“I filed a criminal complaint against the gentleman, who was charged with felony assault. I want him to go to jail. I want justice for it,” Caruth said. “I really don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
“Ali Essa has been charged with a felony assault in the second degree. I have requested a meeting with the district attorney handling the case, and we intend to request that charges be upgraded to a hate crime,” Sanford Rubenstein, Caruth’s lawyer, added. “The fact that the n-word was used here indicates to me that the DA’s office has to seriously consider upgrading these charges to a hate crime.”
If those charges do get upgraded, it would mean a more serious penalty for Essa if convicted, exposing him to more jail time.
Essa however, has denied hitting Caruth with the pizza peel, and insists that he was somehow protecting himself.
“I held the thing because he was telling me he’s going to kill me,” Essa told the New York Daily News. “I was defending myself. I was protecting my store. But did I hit him in the face with it? No, I didn’t.”
Essa claimed that Caruth was among a number of drunk customers whom he was trying to get out of the store, which was closing.
“He started it. He held a full can of Pepsi, threw it in my face,” Essa said. “The injuries that he has, it’s not me.”
Currently, Essa is not in jail but has a court date scheduled for June 20 in Manhattan criminal court.
In addition to the criminal case, Caruth and his attorney have filed a civil lawsuit relating to the case.
“While the criminal case is of the utmost importance to him and is the first priority, [Caruth] also believes that it is appropriate that he receives civil damages for what happened to him,” Rubenstein told The Root.
That case is expected to go before a Bronx jury in Supreme Court. The jury will be left to decide what damages Caruth would be entitled to based on the injuries sustained.
“This should not happen to anyone in this city,” the lawyer added.
Meanwhile, Caruth is trying to make sense of what happened to him and get back on his feet, after having to take a month off of work because of his injuries.
“I still have pain that I’m dealing with from it. It definitely changed my life immensely,” he said, noting that he had never personally experienced or witnessed racism prior to this incident.
Moreover, since the attack, Caruth has found that pizza is not nearly as appealing.
“I no longer have a taste for pizza,” he said, noting that he hasn’t had a slice since the attack. “And I used to love pizza.”