ONTARIO — A federal courthouse in Eugene is where the sentencing took place on Thursday for a hate crime that occurred at a fast-food restaurant at a travel center in Ontario, where a long-haul semi driver stabbed a man a few days before Christmas in 2019.
Nolan Levi Strauss, of Colorado, who is white, was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison for stabbing a man “because he was Black.” His sentence also includes five years of supervised release, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney — District of Oregon on Thursday.
Federal prosecutors had been in contact with Malheur County District Attorney David Goldthorpe from the beginning of the case after his urging. The DA previously told the newspaper that the federal system has much harsher penalties than the state of Oregon for the crimes which Strauss was facing.
Goldthorpe also said if Strauss was prosecuted federally, the four felony charges being pursued by Malheur County on behalf of the state would be resolved concurrently with the federal case, or would be dismissed altogether. Those charges including attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first degree, bias crime in the first degree and unlawful use of a weapon.
In a phone interview this morning, Goldthorpe said he was “Very happy that it worked out they way he wanted to,” adding that the federal system was more just to reflect what Struass had done.
“We knew the max was life, but understood the [federal] gridblock was around 250 months, then the feds requested 220 months.”
Goldthorpe explained that the federal gridblock is similar to state sentencing guidelines, in that it is used as a guide early on to determine what someone’s sentence could be.
“His gridblock in Oregon would have had him barely going for 36 months. With Measure 11, I would have had him going for 90 and I think arguably could have gotten around 110. But not over 10 years — it would have been legally impossible in the state system.”
Goldthorpe also traveled to Eugene to the sentencing and attended a press conference with TV stations there afterward. Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero also told the the newspaper he was at the conference, but did not comment about the sentencing.
Goldthorpe shared the statement with the newspaper he had readied for the Eugene press conference. It follows
“This horrific act of racially motivated violence was a shocking first for Malheur County and the City of Ontario. Many heroes stepped up in response to this evil act:
“Jessica Davis kept Ronnell Hughes alive until EMTs and medical professionals worked wonders to save his life.
“Colt Jones and Daniel Pray kept Nolan Strauss from hurting anyone else and detained him until police arrived.
”Ontario Police were the first responders on scene and took Mr Strauss into custody.
”Professional and exemplary investigations were done by Ontario PD, Oregon State Police and the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office. Job well done by all. In the weeks that followed, the community embraced Ronnell Hughes and held fundraisers to help him with the aftermath of this attack.
”The Malheur County District Attorney’s Office was honored to be involved from the beginning of this case to ensure community safety and that Nolan Strauss was held accountable for his abhorrent act of ignorant violence.
“The decision to trust the remainder of the prosecution to the US Attorney’s Office was made after evaluation of what would be the correct sentence for Mr Strauss and which system could better obtain that sentence.
Malheur County thanks the Oregon US Attorney’s Office for their expert handling of this case.
I know I speak for all law enforcement in Malheur County when I say that racially motivated crimes will never be tolerated and will always be handled with all the professionalism and expertise that our dedicated public servants possess.”
Federal prosecutors comment on sentencing
During a proceeding on Jan. 6, when it was determined federal prosecution was well underway, Malheur County decided the state charges would be dismissed.
Strauss was indicted by a federal grand jury in September of 2020, on a one-count indictment charging him with a hate crime with an attempt to kill, and he pleaded guilty to those charges in June. After his sentencing on Thursday, prosecutors and a member of the FBI weighed in.
“This defendant is being held accountable for his brutal and racially-motivated attack against a Black man carried out because of the color of his skin,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Attorneys — District of Oregon’s news release. “Racially motivated attacks have no place in our society, and the Civil Rights Division will continue to vigorously enforce federal laws that prohibit bias motivated violence.”
Prosecutors stated they hoped the lengthy sentence would bring “some measure of peace and closure” for the victim, Ronnell Hughes, 48. While Hughes survived the attack, he was taken to the hospital in Ontario and subsequently taken by LifeFlight to a Boise hospital for emergency surgery.
“The sentence should also send a clear message to anyone contemplating similar acts of violence: hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug for the District of Oregon.
Kieran L. Ramsey, special agent in charge of the FBI Oregon Field Office, said that this type of violence goes beyond physical and emotional damage to the victim. He said “such violence can infect an entire community with divisiveness and despair.”
“This is not the kind of place that any of us want to raise our families, and we stand with the entire community in saying this is not acceptable and we will not allow it,” Ramsey said.
What happened that day
Strauss had been in Ontario for a few days before he committed the crime, which happened while Hughes was at the Arby’s restaurant inside the Pilot Travel Center in Ontario on a job-seeking visit on Dec. 21, 2019. According to court documents and statements at the sentencing hearing, Strauss saw Hughes walk into the restaurant and sit in a booth by himself, where he was waiting to meet with the restaurant manager.
“Strauss did not know the man and had never seen him before, but he decided he wanted to kill the man, because he was Black,” according to the news release.
As such, Strauss went into the restaurant, approaching Hughes from behind, then “suddenly, unprovoked and without warning,” stabbed Hughes twice in the neck.
The action cut Hughes’ jugular vein, causing blood to rush out of his neck, at which point Hughes struggled to get the knife from Strauss, “certain that he would die if he was stabbed again,” reads the release.
A maintenance worker intervened, telling Strauss to drop the knife, and Hughes “broke free from Strauss’ grip and ran to the other side of the restaurant, where he collapsed on the floor. Employees rushed to help Hughes who was covered in blood while the maintenance worker used his belt to secure Strauss’ hands behind his back until police arrived and arrested him.
None of the employees who intervened were injured. However, while they waited, one asked Strauss why he had done that.
“Because he was Black, and I don’t like Black people,” was his reply.
In interviews later that day, Strauss explained his beliefs about Black people to police. He described them as “manipulative, lacking morality and not good people,” telling police the only problem he had with Hughes was the color of his skin.
“All Oregonians should be able to live and work without fear that their skin color will mark them for violence,” said Ramsey.