[UPDATED With CAIR Backing Off Allegations Against Lounge Owner] Muslim Cab Driver's Beating in Newport Beach Spurs Call for Hate-Crime Probe

Edgar Uria
UPDATE, MARCH 31, 12:59 P.M.: The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is backing off claims that the owner of a cigar lounge was involved in the beating of a Muslim cab driver in Newport Beach.

On CAIR-LA's Facebook page, the Anaheim office of the Muslim American rights organization begins by thanking the Newport Beach Police Department for investigating the March 19 assault.

About midway down in the statement, CAIR-LA addresses the cabbie's earlier allegations against Edgar Uria, co-owner of La Habana Cigar Co. on the Newport Penninsula.
In an earlier statement, CAIR-LA stated that the victim reported a man allegedly claiming to be the owner of the cigar lounge to be one of the assailants. Since then, the actual cigar-lounge owner has come forward and denied all allegations involving the incident.

In an earlier interview with the Weekly (scroll down a couple of posts), Uria explained he actually helped the unidentified cabbie by pulling attackers off him.

CAIR-LA's Facebook message also provides a link to a preliminary police report on the incident. It, too, falls more in line with the account of what happened Uria provided the Weekly: that he heard a commotion outside his business, saw three men arguing with the cabbie, went outside to calm everyone down and pulled men off the cabbie when they became aggressive.

According to the police report, the cigar-lounge owner witnessed the men flee the area, but he could not identify them or their direction of travel.

The CAIR-LA Facebook message includes this passage:

CAIR-LA urges the media and the public to refrain from releasing names and identities of the victim and alleged assailants to preserve anonymity and to not undermine an ongoing investigation. CAIR-LA further reminds the public to reserve judgment until the police investigation is completed.

Those are words CAIR-LA should also heed: it was the Anaheim office's original statement on the assault (scroll down to original post) that identified a "cigar lounge owner" as being among those who attacked the Muslim cabbie. The statement also had the businessman identifying himself as having served in the U.S. Marines.

There is only one cigar lounge in that area, and only one cigar-lounge owner there who served in the Marines: Uria.

UPDATE, MARCH 30, 11:37 A.M.: The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has responded to a Weekly request to explain its policy of publicizing perceived hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. without contacting the alleged perpetrators of hate.

The request comes in light of the brutal attack on a Muslim American taxi cab driver in Newport Beach and his allegations against the owner of a Newport Peninsula cigar-shop owner, who strongly denies the accusations (see below).

The response from Munira Syeda, spokeswoman with CAIR's Greater Los Angeles Area office in Anaheim, follows . . .

Our general procedure is that when the issue involves an alleged crime, we do not contact the alleged perpetrators in order to avoid complicating the situation or being accused of threatening or influencing a witness. Investigation is the job of law enforcement, and this is often their request. Our primary role in these cases is to assist the complainant/victim in presenting their allegations to law enforcement, and to encourage law enforcement to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

UPDATE, MARCH 29, 3:02 P.M.: The owner of a cigar lounge singled out in the account of a Muslim taxi driver's beating in Newport Beach contends the cabbie and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have it all wrong:

He was trying to help the driver fend off his attackers.

"It's like I told the officer," Edgar Uria just said on the phone. "I'm 35. I'm a family man. I am not going to punch out a cab driver in front of my business. If that's not career suicide, nothing is."

Uria's La Habana Cigar Co. has been at 107 Palm St. on the Newport Penninsula for four years. It was in Irvine for four and a half years before that. Besides cigars, Uria provides hookahs to a clientele that includes people of Middle East heritage. In fact, it was one of those customers and good friends, who is Syrian Muslim himself, who put me in touch with Uria, who also noted his silent partner is Egyptian.

Here is Uria's account of what happened around midnight on March 19:

The cab driver pulled up on the street in front of the cigar lounge as customers were filing out of some of the three nearby bars. But the woman the cabbie had been called to pick up hopped into a different taxi. That caused the first driver, who is Palestinian, to become irate, kick the second cab and yell that the second driver "stole my fare."

La Habana Cigar Co. Facebook page
Friends enjoy hookah at La Habana Cigar Co. in Newport Beach.
The Muslim driver also called the other driver, who is Latino, "a wetback." But what the Muslim driver did not know as he was throwing his temper tantrum was coming up from behind him were four men who'd been drinking at one of the bars. They were about to get in his cab for rides home. At least two of the men were Anglo Caucasians, but at least one was Latino, and he became angry over the wetback slurs.

Uria, who did not take kindly to the spectacle taking place outside his business, went outside, and when he saw the cabbie being pummeled, he and a second man started pulling the attackers off the driver.

"I don't condone what they did to the guy," Uria said of the intoxicated men. "But if you were to say there were five or six opportunities for [the cabbie] to leave, I'd say he had about 10. He wouldn't do it. So then this whole thing is blowing up in front of my shop."

Uria, who is of Mexican-Cuban-American heritage, said the Latino fighter in the group "lost it" when he heard the wetback comment from the Muslim cabbie. And yet, Uria said he felt compelled to help the driver--and therefore cannot believe that he and his business have been publicly shamed.

"I go out and pull the idiots off of him, with my buddy, those guys bail, I save [the cabbie], and he turns around and tells the cops I'm one of the guys who beat him up," says Uria, still incredulous.

Uria says he was not arrested because, after the cabbie made his accusation, the lounge owner told a police officer to look at the cabbie's battered face and Uria's own hands, which had no marks on them.  

Now, 10 days later, comes the allegations that Uria pointed out the driver was Muslim, called himself a Marine officer and mentioned how the Marines "fucked up" the cabbie's homeland. But Uria is adamant he never told the cabbie he was a Marine officer for the simple reason he never was a Marine officer, although he did serve in the Corps. Uria believes the cabbie overheard him mention to the police officer that he served in the Marines while rattling off the other examples (35, family man, business owner, etc.) of why he would not pummel a cab driver outside his establishment.

"I'm a pretty educated individual," Uria said. "I'm not stupid enough to punch someone and say I'm former Marine. . . . I yelled at the guy to try to get him out of the street. After he was punched, I helped him. I stand behind my decision.

"I'm in Newport Beach; I am the minority," Uria added. "I'm a Latino business owner."

He later added that the "ironic thing" about the whole incident is if he had simply remained in his store and let the cabbie take an even greater beating, Uria's name and business never would have been included in CAIR's statement and the resulting media coverage.

"It was very irresponsible of CAIR to run with it without calling me. Or, they should have just left me out of it. The original police report says nothing about race or racism being involved in this."

A Newport Beach police official confirms this in The Orange County Register, although Sergeant Steve Burdette says additional information can still be added to the report. The same story quotes CAIR as saying the racial allegations were not originally reported by the cabbie to the cops because of "shock" from his injuries and "confusion" at the crime scene.

Looking back at the whole mess and thinking about the anonymous calls he's getting accusing him of being racist, as well as the good feelings he'd built up with Middle Eastern customers, friends and his business parter, the cigar and hookah lounge owner fittingly says, "Holy smoke, are you kidding me?"

It makes Uria second guess something he did not tell police: that it was the cabbie who threw the first punch. Uria says he decided to leave out that detail so the cops would help the driver get the justice he deserves.

ORIGINAL POST, MARCH 29, 8:45 A.M.: A taxi driver who was called to pick up a fare at a Newport Beach cigar lounge says he was verbally and physically assaulted by three men--including one who identified himself as the business owner--because the cabbie is Muslim.

Now, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling on the Department of Justice to launch a hate-crime investigation.

A statement from CAIR's Greater Los Angeles Area office in Anaheim reports the incident took place March 19, although the cigar lounge, owner and victim are not named. However, the Newport Beach Police Department, which is investigating the incident as a hate crime, confirmed the business is La Habana Cigar Co. at 107 Palm St. on the Newport Peninsula.

The department adds that the officer who responded to the incident did not collect enough evidence at the scene to make any arrests. The investigation, including interviewing witnesses, continues.

According to the account of the cabbie, who is Palestinian:

After the cabbie arrived at the cigar lounge, he tried to find out who called for a ride. That's when he was first confronted by a man who identified himself as the owner and said, "I am a Marine officer, fuck you."

Shortly after the verbal confrontation, a woman came out of the cigar lounge and confirmed that she had requested the cab. When the driver stepped out of the cab to talk to her, three men, including the one who identified himself as the owner, began pushing the cabbie and asking, questions such as "What's your religion?" "Where are you from?" and "We're going to fuck you up like we fucked up your country."

With his assailants on his tail, the driver returned to the cab to push the vehicle's emergency response button, which failed. As he began to place a 911 call on his cell phone, the three men, now sitting in the cab's passenger seat, placed the driver in a headlock and punched him.

After a few minutes, the man who had identified himself as the lounge owner said, "Stop, we've fucked him enough." See how they fucked him here:


The cabbie sought medical treatment for facial and head injuries, and since the incident he has missed work because he is afraid to respond to another fare.

The CAIR-LA says it has contacted the Department of Justice, the Orange County Human Relations Commission and the Newport Beach Police Department to report the hate crime. Victim assistance has also been requested through the Orange County Victims' Assistance Program.

"We ask the Department of Justice and local law enforcement to promptly investigate this disturbing incident as a hate crime and bring appropriate charges against the perpetrators," CAIR-LA Civil Rights Manager Affad Shaikh says in the statement.

Laura Eimiller, the FBI's Los Angeles spokeswoman, did not know of a report being filed with her agency. But, based on the cabbie's account, the incident warrants investigation, she said. 

America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization also pointed to two other hate incidents:

Last August, a New York taxi driver was stabbed after being asked if he was a Muslim. The perpetrator was charged with attempted murder as a hate crime, aggravated harassment and criminal possession of a weapon.

And, earlier this month, a Muslim woman returned to her car after shopping for groceries in Anaheim to find a portion of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, desecrated and taped to her vehicle. Both sides of her car were also keyed.

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