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Ohio man pleads guilty to federal hate crime in Covid-era attack on Asian American student

By Zenebou Sylla, CNN

(CNN) — An Ohio man pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal hate crime, admitting he assaulted an Asian American college student in 2021 and blamed him for Covid-19 because of the victim’s race, according to a news release by US prosecutors.

Darrin Johnson, 27, could be sentenced to nearly two years in prison for the attack at the University of Cincinnati, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio said in the statement.

“I remain steadfast in the belief that hate has no place in our society,” US Attorney Kenneth L. Parker said. “We will continue to use our federal law enforcement authority to investigate and prosecute hate crimes like the one committed by Johnson.”

An attorney for Johnson did not immediately respond to CNN’s request Thursday for comment.

The attack took place amid a sharp rise of reported anti-Asian bias incidents – including verbal harassment and physical assaults – spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic, whose first cases appeared in 2019 in China.

Johnson in August 2021 approached the victim, blamed him for Covid-19 and threatened to kill him, according to the US Attorney’s Office. Johnson told the victim to “Go back to your country” and said, “You brought the kung flu here” – employing a racist term for Covid-19.

Johnson then attacked the victim, causing him to fall and hit his head on the bumper of a parked car, the federal prosecutor’s office said. Johnson continued to attack the victim, who was bleeding on the ground, until two bystanders intervened and restrained Johnson.

The victim suffered injuries, “including an orbital contusion, facial lacerations and acute head injury,” the release said.

A federal grand jury in November 2022 indicted Johnson in connection with the attack, prosecutors said. In light of his guilty plea, prosecutors have recommended a sentence of 22 months in prison.

Johnson pleaded guilty in October 2021 to state charges of misdemeanor assault and criminal intimidation, for which he was sentenced to 360 days in a county jail, the release notes.

CNN’s Dakin Andone contributed to this report.

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