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Police Investigate Alleged Hate Crime In Newport Beach

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NEWPORT BEACH (CBS) — Police in Newport Beach are investigating an alleged hate-crime against an Arab-American taxi driver, a sergeant confirmed Monday.

Newport Beach police Sgt. Steve Burdette said the officer who took a battery report that day did not have enough evidence to make an arrest. But a detective is following up with interviews of witnesses who saw the March 19 confrontation outside the La Habana Cigar Co. at 107 Palm St., on the Newport peninsula, he said.

The driver, who was born in Palestine, was called to pick up a fare at the cigar store March 19 when he was confronted by someone who identified himself as the owner, according to CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) spokeswoman Munira Syeda. The man told the driver, “I am a Marine officer, (expletive) you,” according to Syeda.

She did not know the ethnicity of the alleged attackers.

When a woman came out of the store to say she had called for the cab, three men came out of the business and pushed the driver while asking him what his religion was, according to CAIR.

The driver said he was told, “We’re going to (expletive) you like we (expletive) your country,” according to CAIR.

The driver tried to push the vehicle’s emergency response button, but it did not work, so he got in his cab and dialed 911 as one of the men got in and put him in a headlock.

The other two men and the man who identified himself as the owner allegedly punched the victim, according to CAIR.

A man who answered the phone at the cigar store asked a reporter to call back later, and a later message for a call back was not immediately returned.

The cabbie was treated for head injuries and has missed work because he is afraid to report to his job, said Syeda.

CAIR called on the U.S. Department of Justice to join local authorities in investigating the alleged attack.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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