A 29-year-old Simi Valley man has been arrested and booked on suspicion of committing a hate crime after an apparent worshiper was stabbed near a mosque, authorities say.
About 11:15 p.m. Saturday, Simi Valley police received reports of people fighting in a shopping center parking lot in the 1800 block of Erringer Road, said Sgt. Adam Darough. The shopping center is “adjacent” to a mosque, Darough said.
After officers arrived and separated those involved in the fight, police discovered that a man had been stabbed, Darough said.
“During their investigation, [officers] discovered a suspect had confronted a worshiper from the mosque, and after a verbal altercation, they began to fight,” Darough said. “During the fight, [someone] stabbed the victim.”
Police arrested John Matteson nearby, Darough said. Matteson was taken into custody and booked into Ventura County jail on suspicion of a hate crime, Darough said.
Authorities initially said Matteson was suspected of carrying out the attack. On Monday, however, police said that Matteson was involved in the fight but that another unidentified man committed the stabbing.
Jail records show that Matteson’s bail was set at $25,000. He was booked on suspicion of making felony criminal threats, performing a felony violation of civil rights and disturbing the peace by fighting, the records show.
Matteson is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, according to jail records. It’s unclear if he was being represented by an attorney.
The Simi Valley Police Department has investigated a man with the same name and birth date as Matteson in connection with several incidents in recent years, according to Ventura County Superior Court records.
He pleaded no contest in October to disturbing the peace by loud noise, an infraction. In July, Matteson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of public intoxication from a June 30 incident, according to court records. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of disturbing the peace stemming from a Nov. 9, 2015, incident.
Last year, he also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of making terrorist threats.
Authorities did not provide additional details about the victim. They said he was taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and is in stable condition.
“We’re investigating whether or not this was instigated by [the victim’s] appearance and the association with the mosque,” Darough said. “We’re quite concerned that this occurred. We want to keep people of all faiths safe in the city.”
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Sunday that he had spoken with several Muslims in Simi Valley and that they were “heartbroken.”
Members of the community told Ayloush that the stabbing had occurred near a “prayer area” where locals had gathered — but he said he did not know the exact address or type of building where the gathering took place.
Since election day, CAIR has received almost 200 reports of hate incidents directed at Muslims in America, Ayloush said.
“It’s hard to believe that in this day and age we still have to deal with such hate and violence in our country, and especially in a place as diverse as Southern California,” Ayloush said.
The stabbing comes amid a national surge in anti-Muslim crimes, which jumped 67% in 2015, according to FBI statistics.
Researchers at Cal State San Bernardino have said the rise in anti-Muslim crimes accelerated after the San Bernardino terror attack in December 2015 and was fanned by Donald Trump’s call to bar Muslims from entering the United States during his successful campaign for the presidency.
In recent weeks, mosques across California have received letters threatening genocide and referring to Muslims as “vile and filthy people.”
Officials note the difference between a hate crime and cruel comments, the latter of which are often protected by the First Amendment. The law prohibits physically harming someone based on his or her race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation, among other characteristics.
Dec. 12, 2:50 p.m.: This article was updated with information from the police that another unidentified man is suspected of the actual stabbing, not John Matteson.
Dec. 11, 6:10 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reaction and information about previous hate crimes.
This article was originally published Dec. 11 at 1:35 p.m.