By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

31 March 2011

Cigar vendor: ‘I was aiding' hate accuser

An anti-Muslim "hate crime" at a Newport Beach cigar store? Could there be a story more in my wheelhouse?

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for the feds to open a hate-crime investigation after a Muslim cab driver said a cigar store owner in concert with three other men assaulted him in front of the store, promising they were "going to f—you up like we f— up your country" as they pummeled him.

Article Tab : Edgar Uria outside his La Habana Cigar Co. on the Balboa Peninsula. He said he actually tried to assist the man who accused him of a hate crime.
Edgar Uria outside his La Habana Cigar Co. on the Balboa Peninsula. He said he actually tried to assist the man who accused him of a hate crime.
When I read news accounts Wednesday morning that one of the accused haters owned the cigar shop on Palm Street on the Balboa Peninsula, I knew the story was suspect. I've known Edgar Uria for several years, and that's just not him. Before I could call Uria, he called me.


Wednesday afternoon found me at his shop puffing on a fine Partagas Serie D, along with Uria's attorney, Victor Cueto. Uria did almost all the talking, telling a story that makes more sense than the one told by the beating victim to CAIR and the police. It goes:


Late on March 19, two women who had been in Uria's cigar lounge called for a cab. One arrived outside, steps away from the front door. Unbeknownst to them, it was not from the cab company they'd called. But they got into it anyway and were about to leave when the cab they did call pulled up.


The second cabbie, a middle-aged Arabic man, hopped out and started yelling at the first cabbie, a Hispanic man, for taking his fare. Uria heard the commotion and stepped outside. He heard the Arabic cabbie call the Hispanic cabbie a "f—ing wetback." The Hispanic cabbie drove away.


At that very moment, three men who had apparently come from a bar around the corner, ran up looking for a cab. One of the three, a Hispanic man, had heard the Arabic cabbie's slur, and said to him, 'What the f—did you say?" The cabbie and Hispanic man started cursing at each other. As the cabbie tried to leave, he brushed his arm against the Hispanic man, who punched him in the face.


As Uria yelled to his patrons inside to call the cops, the two men with the Hispanic man joined in and started beating the cabbie. Uria and one of his patrons, Greg Parker, jumped into the melee and pulled off the attackers, who fled. The cops arrived moments later.


As the cabbie and Uria were talking to separate officers, Uria heard the cabbie say, "That's him!" pointing at Uria.


"My jaw dropped," Uria says. "I was like, 'You have got to be kidding me.' I helped the guy out! I rendered aid!"


Uria also heard the cabbie ask the cop if he wasn't arresting Uria because he was "white." (Uria is Cuban.)


"He was pulling the ethnic card right off," Uria says. "The only derogatory slur was from the cabbie, who said the (other cabbie) was a wetback!"


This all sounds more logical than the version the cabbie told CAIR, which was that Uria confronted him without provocation, saying, "I'm a Marine officer, f— you." (The cabbie had overhead Uria tell one of the cops he had been a staff sergeant.)


Cueto, Uria's attorney, gives the cabbie the benefit of the doubt, recognizing that the man was probably dazed and didn't realize Uria was one of the good guys.


I talked to CAIR director Hussam Ayloush, who concedes "it's very possible" that Uria's version is the true one.


"All we do is call for an investigation," Ayloush said. "There's always two sides. At this point we're letting the police decide."


He said CAIR didn't get Uria's side because its policy is not to get involved at that level when there appears to have been a crime committed. He says he feels bad that Uria's name was made public. CAIR did not identify him by name, but reporters were able to figure out who it was pretty easily.


Uria, meanwhile, is facing local and federal investigations and has received one threatening phone call since the story broke this week in TV, radio and print. He has removed his inventory for fear of reprisal. Although he fears his business will suffer, at least in the short term, but he is confident the police will clear him. For one thing, he says, the cops at the scene noted that his hands were not bruised or bloody – unlike the cabbie's face.


"They took pictures of my hands, thank God."


Mickadeit writes Mon.-Fri. Contact him at 714-796-4994 or fmickadeit@ocregister.com                                                                                                      http://www.ocregister.com

The comments are closed.