Former South Lake Tahoe couple to face federal charges
March 5, 2009
A Fairfield couple who once called South Lake Tahoe home have not seen the end of their legal troubles following an assault on an East Indian couple at El Dorado Beach in July 2007.
On Thursday, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging Georgia Silva, 51, and Joseph Silva, 55, with federal civil rights violations.
“The indictment alleges that on the evening of July 14, 2007, Joseph and Georgia Silva committed a bias-motivated assault on another couple at a public beach in South Lake Tahoe,” according to a press statement from the Department of Justice. “The Silvas allegedly first confronted the victims verbally on the beach, using derogatory racial and ethnic slurs to refer to the Indian-American couple. The Silvas then assaulted the couple, including striking one of the victims with a shoe and tackling and striking another victim repeatedly in the head.”
One of the victims ” Bay area resident Vishal Wadhwa ” suffered facial fractures and said during a court hearing in September that he continues to have problems maintaining balance because of the attack.
At that hearing, Judge Suzanne Kingsbury sentenced Georgia Silva to one year in jail and Joseph Silva to six months in jail and three years’ probation for the attack.
Prosecutors initially tried to add a hate-crime enhancement to the case, but Kingsbury found the incident didn’t fit the legal definition of a hate crime and dropped the enhancement in June.
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The case attracted the attention of the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, which criticized Kingsbury’s decision to drop the enhancement, calling the move a “travesty of justice” in a letter to the Tribune.
Kingsbury defended the removal of the crime enhancement in September, saying even if additional information ” such as Wadhwa’s medical reports ” were submitted to the court, the incident would still be unlikely to fit the definition of a hate crime under California law.
“Mental-health issues” and “intoxication issues” were the causes of the incident, rather than racial hatred, said Elizabeth Grossman ” the Silvas’ attorney while the case was in El Dorado County Superior Court.
The maximum penalty for each of the alleged federal violations is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the statement.