According to Champaign, Ill., Police Department reports from witnesses on the scene, Dhammika Dharmapala, 41 and of Sri Lankan descent, was sitting early morning at the Illinois Train Terminal, waiting for a train to Chicago. Suddenly, suspect Joshua Scaggs, 23, jumped up and then allegedly grabbed Dharmapala around the neck, appearing to be choking him while forcing him to the floor.
A witness pulled Scaggs off Dharmapala, and noticed that he was severely bleeding at the neck. A utility knife was found near Scaggs, who was not hurt in the attack.
While attacking Dharmapala, Scaggs allegedly yelled that this was “his country,” according to police reports.
Dharmapala was rushed to Carle Hospital in Urbana. The hospital would not confirm whether he was there and did not release information about his condition. Carolyn Turner, assistant dean at the University of Illinois, also told India-West that she could not comment on the matter.
University of Illinois president Michael Hogan released a campus-wide statement Dec. 7: “This morning a member of our faculty was severely injured during what appears to have been a senseless act of aggression and alleged hate crime by another not affiliated with the University of Illinois. The University is deeply saddened by this event.”
“We are grateful to those who intervened to offer aid and the thoughts of the entire University community are with the victim and his family, wishing for a complete and speedy recovery,” said Hogan.
The university initially declined to release Dharmapala’s name, but local media have since identified the victim.
At his arraignment Dec. 8, the Champaign County state attorney’s office charged Scaggs with one count of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault.
Bail was set at $500,000 for Scaggs, and a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 15. Several civil rights organizations have called for adding hate crime enhancements to the charges against Scaggs.
But Illinois Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Ziegler, who is prosecuting the case, told India-West that the state will not add on a hate crime charge, since it will not add any additional time to Scaggs’ possible sentence. If convicted on all three charges, Scaggs faces a sentence of eight to 35 years.
“A hate crime charge carries a lesser penalty,” said Ziegler, also noting that there was nothing in the police reports he received to indicate that Scaggs was motivated by race or ethnicity.
Scaggs has one prior conviction for a burglary committed in Indiana in 2006. According to local media, he appeared in court Dec. 8 in an anti-suicide gown.
Scaggs is being represented by attorney Baku Patel, who is also representing his client in another undisclosed matter. Patel told India-West it was too early to determine how Scaggs would plead at his preliminary hearing Dec. 15.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for federal civil rights charges to be filed against Scaggs, claiming that the young suspect thought his victim was “Middle Eastern.”
“We thank local law enforcement authorities for their swift and professional actions in this case and urge the U.S. Department of Justice to consider what federal civil rights charges could be filed in the case,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper in a press statement.
“Our society must begin to address the rising level of anti-Muslim sentiment that can lead to such disturbing incidents,” he said.
Champaign police did not report Scaggs making anti-Islamic statements.
Dharmapala joined the faculty of the University of Illinois School of Law in 2009, after a seven-year stint at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Economics. He earned his master’s degree in economics from the University of Western Australia and his Ph.D. in economics from UC Berkeley.
Dharmapala — who is considered an authority on tax policy, public economics, law and economics and political economics — also served as an international research fellow at the Oxford University Center for Business Taxation and as a visiting professor of business economics and public policy at the University of Michigan.
Dharmapala’s family could not be reached for comment.