Aug. 5 (UPI) -- A Texas man has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for brutally attacking an Asian family at a Sam's Club amid the pandemic as he believed they were Chinese, whom he erroneously blamed for spreading COVID-19.
The Justice Department said 21-year-old Jose Gomez III of Midland, Texas, was sentenced on Thursday, months after he plead guilty to federal hate crimes charges in February.
"Pandemic-driven and racially motivated acts of violence are deplorable crimes, and the Justice Department stands ready to use our hate crimes laws to hold perpetrators accountable," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
Gomez was arrested March 14, 2020, after he attacked the Asian family at the Midland Sam's Club.
Court documents show Gomez admitted to entering the store behind the Asian family he had never seen before and believed were Chinese. He then followed the family, which included two young children ages 6 and 2, for several minutes as he viewed them as a "threat" as they were "from the country who started spreading that disease around."
He then left the family to find within the store a steak knife, which he bent the blade of around his fist with the sharp edge facing outward.
The filling states Gomez then returned to the family and punched the father in the face, cutting him.
Gomez then went to find another knife, and when he did he attacked the Asian family's two children who were seated in the front basket of the shopping cart, slashing the face of the 6-year-old, who was identified in the court document as R.C.
"The blade entered millimeters from R.C.'s right eye, split his right ear and wrapped around to the back of his skull," the Justice Department said.
Gomez then stabbed a Sam's Club employee who attempted to intervene, the Justice Department said, adding that as Gomez was wrestled to the ground he yelled at the Asian family, "Get out of America!"
The incident occurred as reports of racist attacks targeting Asian people in the United States began to climb amid the pandemic.
According to statistics from the Justice Department, there were 279 anti-Asian incidents reported in 2020, representing a 77% increase from the year before.
Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of Asian equality groups that was formed amid the pandemic in reaction to such instances, said it has tallied 11,500 reported hate incidents between its founding on March 19, 2020, and March 31 of this year.
"Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have spiked during the pandemic and must be confronted," Clarke said. "All people deserve to feel safe and secure living in their communities, regardless of race, color or national origin."