Woman who attacked Somali agrees to assault charge

Asma Jama, before and after the attack
Asma Jama was sitting at a Coon Rapids Applebee's on Oct. 30, 2015, when a fellow diner confronted her for not speaking English. When Jama, who speaks three languages, responded, the woman smashed a glass beer mug across her face. Jama sustained cuts across her face and a deep gash on her lip that required 17 stitches.
Courtesy of Asma Jama

A Ramsey woman faces jail time after pleading guilty to third-degree assault for attacking a Somali-American woman in a Coon Rapids restaurant last year. As part of a plea deal, a second assault charge was dropped.

In October 2015, Jodie Marie Burchard-Risch encountered a Somali-American woman named Asma Jama in an Applebee's restaurant. Jama was wearing a hijab and speaking Swahili. Acting out of what she admits was bias, Burchard-Risch hit Jama in the face with a glass beer mug.

Jama sustained cuts on her face. She said in Anoka County District Court Monday that she's still being evaluated for the effects of a head injury.

Asma Jama at the Anoka County Courthouse.
Asma Jama at the Anoka County Courthouse on Oct. 17
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

Burchard-Risch appeared cheerful in court, loudly saying "Good morning" to court staff and counsel. When her attorney asked if she understood what she was pleading to, she said, "Absolutely."

Prosecutor Laura Schwartz asked her, "Did you assault Asma Jama based on religion, race or ethnicity?"

"Yup," Burchard-Risch replied.

Showing her a photo of Jama's injuries, she asked, "Did you commit bodily harm?"

"Yup."

Asma Jama sat next to her attorneys and said she was nervous seeing the defendant in court. She described still not feeling comfortable going places by herself, and said that she didn't leave her house for seven months. She said she suffers from anxiety daily, but is getting better.

Asma Jama with Paul Young, left, and Tony Palumbo.
Jama, center, sits with Paul Young, left, chief of the Anoka County Attorney's Office criminal division, and Tony Palumbo, the Anoka County Attorney on Monday at the Anoka County Courthouse.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

She said she was glad Burchard-Risch pleaded guilty.

"I'm happy with the message that was sent today," she said. "At least she agreed to what she did, and she admitted to being biased. Although we didn't agree to the word 'hate crime,' she agreed to what she did."

Asma Jama said she's thankful she's alive.

"I had to let what happened to me be known," Jama said. "We all know that it happens (hate crimes), but nobody speaks about it. I wanted not to be the face of a hate crime, I wanted to bring this to light, that this is what is going on, and if we don't stop it, it's going to continue happening."

According to the terms of the agreement, Burchard-Risch, 44, will be sentenced to 37 months in prison — but that sentence will be stayed, and she'll face 180 days in jail. She'll also be on five years' probation and she'll have to pay restitution.

Her attorney, Rodd Tschida, sent reporters a statement Monday afternoon describing the incident as "a boring story about an alcohol-induced fracas between two tables having nothing to do with religion."

"The original notion of some that Jodie decided to approach another patron and round-house punch her with a glass for speaking a foreign language is fantasy," he wrote.

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