Neil S. Dhillon, regarded as one of the top contenders for the 6th District Democratic congressional nomination, was convicted in 1989 of assaulting a female bank employee in Virginia.
A Fairfax County district judge found Mr. Dhillon guilty of the misdemeanor charge and gave him a 10-day suspended jail sentence and a $50 fine, according to court records. He placed Mr. Dhillon on 12 months probation.
The victim, Lydia Carter, said Mr. Dhillon attacked her at a Vienna, Va., bank where she worked as a collection manager. The dispute centered on the repossession of Mr. Dhillon's Subaru, which he was trying to get back.
"It just seemed like he snapped," Ms. Carter said in an interview yesterday. "He grabbed a hold of my arm and he flung me up on the wall," she said.
Ms. Carter said she wasn't hurt, but went into shock and was afraid at the time that he might attack her again. Mr. Dhillon also cursed her and used crude slurs, she said.
When asked about the case by a reporter yesterday, Mr. Dhillon at first said, "I don't know what case you're talking about."
After being faxed a copy of the case file, Mr. Dhillon admitted his involvement. He denied that he had touched Ms. Carter, but conceded "I said a couple of words I shouldn't have said."
"I made a mistake," he continued. "I am a model citizen as a result of it." Mr. Dhillon blamed his primary opponents for leaking the information to the press. "This is a smear tactic by my opponents," he said. "Obviously they would not be doing this if I wasn't getting my message out to the voters."
Last month, The Sun reported that Mr. Dhillon had failed to vote in either a state or a national election between 1980 and 1992. During that time, Mr. Dhillon was a political science student at American University in Washington, D.C., and later a political staffer on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Dhillon, now 32, attributed his lapse in voting to, among other things, long work hours and what he termed the failure of election officials to notify him that he had been removed from the voting rolls. Ultimately, though, he took responsibility for the mistake.
The assault occurred March 29, 1989, while Mr. Dhillon was serving as legislative director for then-Rep. Beverly B. Byron. Mr. Dhillon said he had restructured a loan on the car, but that the bank repossessed it, contrary to an agreement. He said it was a tight time for him financially, as he was paying off student loans and a mortgage.
Mr. Dhillon had gone to the bank that day to work out the problem and seemed calm, Ms. Carter recalled. When she handed him a form, however, he threw her against a wall, she said. She said she told Mr. Dhillon to leave, but he refused and a co-worker called the police.
Mr. Dhillon left, but was arrested several blocks away, she said. He was released on a $500 bond, and the case was scheduled for trial April 10, 1989, according to court records.
However, Mr. Dhillon failed to show, according to court records, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Asked why he did not show up for the first court date, Mr. Dhillon said he had received "no proper notification."
It was unclear from the court record whether Mr. Dhillon was arrested again for failing to appear, although he said he was not. He did arrive in court May 1, 1989, and the judge found him guilty of assault and ordered him to have no contact with Ms. Carter.
Mr. Dhillon, whose parents are from India, burst on the 6th District political scene last winter after raising a $242,000 campaign fund, largely from the Indian community in the United States. The 6th District extends across Western Maryland, Carroll County and most of Howard County, including Ellicott City and parts of Columbia. Mr. Dhillon is running in a crowded field of seven Democrats for the Sept. 13 nomination. They are vying to take on incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who faces no strong opposition in the Republican primary.
Mr. Dhillon says he wants to continue to discuss issues in the final days of the campaign and appears determined to continue in the race.
"I believe this is not the measure of who I am," he said.