PORTLAND, Maine — A Biddeford man who suffered a broken jaw and other wounds after being assaulted in an alleged racially motivated attack testified before a jury that he “probably would have lost his life” had he not escaped from two white men charged with hate crimes for violently assaulting him and another black man without provocation in April 2018.
The federal trial of Maurice Diggins began Friday at the U.S. criminal courthouse, after numerous delays. Diggins is charged with two counts of federal hate crimes and one count of conspiracy to violate a federal hate crimes act. He and his nephew Dusty Leo face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for the hate crimes charge, and five years in prison and up to $250,000 for the conspiracy charge after allegedly assaulting two black men in Portland and Biddeford within the span of an hour during the early morning of April 15, 2018. Prosecutors say the two men committed the assaults because of the victims’ race.
Diggins, a 36-year-old white male who lived in Biddeford, and Leo, his 29-year-old nephew, assaulted the two men without ever having interacted with them, prosecutors told the jury.
Five of Diggins’ numerous tattoos are expected to be brought into evidence, including multiple Nazi swastikas, an “SS bolt” symbol and a 14-word phrase that has become a type of slogan in white nationalist movements.
One of the victims whom Diggins and Leo allegedly assaulted testified Friday about being attacked at a 7-Eleven in Biddeford.
The victim did not make it to the door of the convenience store before a Chevy pickup truck driven by Diggins with Leo in the passenger seat pulled into the 7-Eleven lot, he told the court. The men in the truck shouted at the man using a racial slur — “N——-, who you eyeballing?” — before Diggins got out of the truck and circled the man, spinning him around, according to his account. A video played for jurors corroborated the story. After the victim was spun around, Leo got out of the truck and snuck up behind him before sucker-punching him, breaking his jaw and knocking him to the ground, according to multiple testimonies and surveillance video.
The encounter lasted 10 or 15 seconds, according to a witness who saw it unfold from the store.
The man got up to run the few blocks home as Diggins and Leo got into the truck, peeled out of the 7-Eleven parking lot and drove after the victim. Prosecutors said that the two men lived in the opposite direction. The victim said he cut through alleyways and backyards and scaled two fences to reach home safely.
The victim said he and his partner had been celebrating his eldest child’s admission into college in the hours before the assault and had walked to the convenience store for snacks.
The assault left the victim’s jaw broken in three places. He was brought to Maine Medical Center in Portland and was given emergency treatment by a facial trauma specialist, who wired his jaw shut. Dr. Richard Crawford said the victim was unable to chew for a month. He still can’t bite into a burger, Crawford told the court.
The victim said that he had to use vacation time from work to recover, and that he was unable to work after that vacation time ran out, resulting in the loss of two jobs.
He said he was “constantly looking over his shoulder” after the assault, and he and his family decided to move out of the area.
On the witness stand, Biddeford police officer Christopher Ouellette said that he had worked on assault cases — “too many to count” — over his 11 years in the Saco and Biddeford police departments.
“This one was different,” Ouellette said. “It was clear that this was an unprovoked attack.”
The trial resumes Monday in Portland.