CHULA VISTA (CNS) - A man who allegedly attacked his neighbor while using homophobic slurs, then hung an anti-Semitic banner over a San Diego freeway overpass, pleaded not guilty Monday to a felony count of battery, plus a hate crime allegation.
Robert Frank Wilson, 40, is accused of directing slurs at his neighbor in a Nov. 10 altercation in the victim's driveway. According to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, Wilson blocked the neighbor's driveway, yelled homophobic slurs, then reached into the victim's vehicle and struck him in the face.
In an apparently unrelated incident, the DA's Office alleges that Wilson and others hung "a large anti-Semitic poster on the fence of an Interstate 805 overpass" on Dec. 18, in violation of the San Diego City Municipal Code.
Wilson, who remains out of custody, entered his pleas in-person in a Chula Vista courtroom. He faces up to three years and six months in prison if convicted.
"This case and these events demonstrate that those who are motivated by prejudice often spread their hate around to various groups, attacking our neighbors on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or other grounds," San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said.
"Hate against one group is a threat to everyone and we won't tolerate these crimes in our community. Anyone considering committing a hate crime should think again as they will be investigated, prosecuted and held accountable under the law."
A DA's Office statement indicates that hate crime prosecutions have risen in San Diego County in recent years, with 21 cases filed last year and 30 such cases in 2021.
In response to hate crimes aimed at Asians amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an online form and hotline was established last year by the DA's Office that allows members of the public to report suspected hate crimes.
Though hate speech in and of itself may not always rise to the level of criminal activity, the DA's Office statement indicated hate speech "is relevant as it could escalate to criminal behavior. Hate crimes are often preceded by hate speech."
The online reporting form can be found at https://www.sdcda.org/helping/hate-crimes, while the Hate Crimes Hotline number is 619-515-8805.