Quevaughn Caruth said he was just grabbing a quick, late night bite to eat with his friends back in March when he was viciously attacked by a restaurant worker in New York City.
Caruth, a legal assistant at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, said that after receiving his order at La Vera Pizzeria in Manhattan and waiting for his friends to do the same, the restaurant worker began yelling at him to get out.
“I asked ‘for what’ because I’m waiting for my friends to get their pizza,” Caruth told The Root. He also claimed that he was the only Black person in the establishment and felt like the restaurant worker was kicking him out because of it. Still, in spite of the worker’s rudeness, Caruth said he left the pizza place and waited for his friends outside.
Apparently, that wasn’t good enough for Ali Essa, the restaurant's former manager. "He called me a stupid N-word," Caruth told the New York Daily News. That’s when things took a violent turn.
"Next thing I remember is another guy come out of nowhere with a pizza peel and hit me in the face,” Caruth recalled.
According to video surveillance footage obtained at the scene, Essa stuck Caruth with a pizza peel — the large, wooden spatula used to transport pizzas to/from the hot oven. Essa hit Caruth with so much force it broke the pizza tool and knocked Caruth unconscious.
“My life has totally changed," Caruth, who is just 24, said of the violent encounter, which left him with a gash to his face and permanent scarring.
"I used to love pizza, could eat a whole box by myself and now even thinking about it upsets me,” he added.
After striking Caruth, Essa was charged with felony assault in the second degree, according to Caruth’s lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein. But that isn’t a harsh enough punishment, the attorney said. He’s looking to have Essa charged with a hate crime.
“I have requested a meeting with the district attorney handling the case, and we intend to request that charges be upgraded to a hate crime,” said Rubenstein. “The fact that the N-word was used here indicates to me that the DA’s office has to seriously consider upgrading these charges to a hate crime.”
Despite video evidence, Essa has denied hitting Caruth. However, he admitted to threatening the Bronx man with the oversized spatula but claimed he only had it for self-defense.
"I held the thing because he was telling me he's going to kill me," Essa told the New York Daily News. "I was defending myself. I was protecting my store. But did I hit him in the face with it? No, I didn't."
That night, Essa said he was trying to get a group of patrons to leave so he could close the pizza shop, but he felt threatened by Caruth.
"He started it. He held a full can of Pepsi, threw it in my face," Essa said. "The injuries that he has, it's not me."
In addition to trying to get Essa’s assault charge upgraded to a hate crime, Rubenstein has also filed a civil lawsuit on Caruth’s behalf.
While most of his physical injuries have healed, Caruth said he’s still coping with the effects of his attack.
“I still have pain that I’m dealing with from it,” he explained. “It definitely changed my life immensely.”