NEVADA: A Carson City jury convicted a local man of attempted murder with hate crime enhancements Friday as well as battery and assault with a deadly weapon following an incident in east Carson City last year where the man shot more than a dozen rounds into a vehicle occupied by five Sikh men visiting the area, injuring one.
After four days of testimony in Carson City District Court with Judge James Todd Russell presiding, it took the 12-member jury less than three hours to come up with guilty counts on all four charges against Travis Donald Mickelson: Attempted murder, battery with a deadly weapon, assault with a deadly weapon and discharge of a firearm into an occupied vehicle.
Sentencing is Dec. 31, where Mickelson faces up to 70 years in prison.
Travis Mickelson, 37, was heard in multiple telephone recordings hours after the Sept. 30, 2017 shooting talking about how he unloaded his semi-automatic 45-caliber handgun at a truck of “sand niggers” because, among other things, he said “a towel head Muslim-looking dude” looked at his wife inappropriately and that it had “creeped her out.”
He further claimed the reason he shot at the men was because he said the truck they were in followed him eastbound on Highway 50 near Fairview Drive after leaving a convenience store and attempted to swerve into his Dodge van.
He said he shot at the vehicle because he thought the men were going to drive him off the road and rape his wife. He used racist language to identify the men for not speaking English and his perception of the men being Muslim.
“The kind of blind hatred that prompts a human being to fire multiple bullets into a car full of people the shooter doesn’t even know is nearly incomprehensible,” said Carson City District Attorney Jason Woodbury. “And that’s what made this case so troubling. There’s no addiction that led to this. No mental illness. No youthful impulse or jealous rage. Just pure hate.”
The case was argued and prosecuted by Melanie A. Brantingham, Carson City Deputy District Attorney. One factor to the case was evidence from telephone recordings, which were found on Mickelson’s phone. The phone recordings were located after the a search warrant was granted to look through the phone after the shooting.
Travis Mickelson (pictured above) had recorded phone conversations while he was in a custody dispute with his ex-wife. Among the phone calls were to family members following the incident.
In telephone recordings that were allowed as evidence in the case, Mickelson told family members that he shot as many as 14 rounds into the vehicle. He said he confronted the men while sitting in his parked van at the convenience store as his wife went inside to use the restroom, telling the men that the woman was his wife after he thought they were looking at his wife.
In a phone conversation, he said one of the men asked him why his wife wasn’t wearing any shoes. Mickelson stated in the recorded phone conversation that Muslims have a problem with barefoot women and that his wife entered the convenience store without shoes.
During witness testimony the men said they never made any such comment about the woman not having shoes, only having observed with their eyes the woman didn’t have any shoes on.
Brantingham noted the recorded phone conversations amounted to “an important and unique piece of evidence. We don’t often get to hear a defendant in his own words talk about why he committed a crime particularly that quickly after,” she said.
“This appalling criminal act forever changed the lives of five men, who were visiting Carson City from all corners of the world. We believe the verdict rendered by the jury sends a clear message that hate and violence will not be tolerated in our community. We are pleased that justice was served, and hope that the victims can now move forward and continue their healing process.”
In the parking lot of the convenience store, surveillance shows Mickelson appearing to make movements inside the vehicle that were consistent with loading a gun.
In the recorded phone conversations hours after the shooting he said he thought the driver was attempting to swerve into him. He said he believed they were all Muslims who made an issue of his wife being barefoot and that he shot them because he thought they were going run him off the road and then rape his wife, which, he claimed, Muslim men were doing throughout the country.
The five men in the vehicle, who are Sikh with family from India and not the Middle East, said they had no idea what had happened the night they were driving on Highway 50 East and attempted to pass a Dodge van that was in the slow lane, when Mickelson opened fire between 2 and 4 feet of the vehicle, hitting it multiple times, including windows, passenger side windows, with one of the bullets striking Harmandeep Singh Shergill in the torso area.
Mickelson said in one audio recording to a family member that he thought he killed someone after “dumping 14 rounds” into the vehicle. He said considered calling the sheriff’s office to explain what happened but instead decided to “lay low” and turned on the police scanner instead and learned someone had been shot from the shooting he did and that Care Flight was called and then canceled, which led him to believe at least one of the passengers in the vehicle had died.
He also noted that he was worried that “14 rounds” of spent bullets with his fingerprints would be found, implicating him in the shooting.
He told a family member the “odds are” he probably hit all the men in the truck with bullets, then made jokes about the men meeting 40 virgins in heaven.
The defense argued Mickelson acted out of fear and self-defense when he shot at the truck.
“This was a hate crime. He targeted Muslim people who are actually Sikh, who come from a very peaceful religious community,” said Frankee Haynes, Victim Witness Administrator for Carson City. “This crime hit them particularly hard for that. They are not subjected to this kind of violence or hate or malice or anything like that. So to them it was more than shocking, it was life changing for them.”