Castro hate crimes defendant will face trial

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 21, 2023
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Muhammed Abdullah will face trial in San Francisco Superior Court on hate crime and other charges stemming from incidents in the Castro earlier this month. Photo: Scott Wazlowski
Muhammed Abdullah will face trial in San Francisco Superior Court on hate crime and other charges stemming from incidents in the Castro earlier this month. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

A man who pleaded not guilty to Castro-area hate crimes will continue to be held without bail as he awaits his trial, a judge ordered after a preliminary hearing.

Muhammed Abdullah, 20, had his preliminary hearing Wednesday afternoon — just days before Pride festivities get underway in San Francisco — in front of Judge Patrick Thompson in Department 12 at the Hall of Justice, 850 Bryant Street.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, Abdullah pleaded not guilty June 8 to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of committing a hate crime, and counts of resisting arrest, misdemeanor battery, violation of a person's civil rights, and petty theft. During that court appearance, he made clear his disdain for the LGBTQ community in a statement, saying, "what the LGBT community is doing to kids is disrespectful to everyone who stands for God."

More specifically, Abdullah is accused of stealing a rainbow flag and then hitting a man with a "glass object" in the vicinity of 18th and Hartford streets just before noon June 5, according to San Francisco police. He'd been following the man and another man "aggressively shouting anti-LGBTQ language," the San Francisco Police Department stated in the news release.

Thompson ruled that the district attorney's office met its burden to move forward to trial. The next hearing in the case will be July 5 at 9 a.m.

Before lunch, the judge heard from two witnesses called to the stand by Assistant District Attorney Nancy Tung.

The first was Jayden Lee, who works at the Ampersand flower shop at Market and Sanchez streets.

"I was working on arrangements when I heard a tear sound from the door," Lee testified. "I saw the Pride flag was gone and I went to see where it went and saw he had it."

When Tung asked Lee to identify who "he" is, Lee indicated the defendant. Tung asked Lee his sexual identity, to which he replied he was bisexual. Tung also asked what the Pride flag means to him.

"For me, it kind of represents our Pride and being able to be proud of our sexuality," Lee said. "Especially during Pride Month, it felt like a personal attack."

Lee testified that the flag belonged to his boss, whom he did not identify. When Lee saw Abdullah with the flag, he asked him why he had taken it.

"He [Abdullah] responded with 'this is nasty,'" Lee said. "He walked across the street and I ended up calling the police because that's what I am told to do by my bosses whenever someone steals something."

Tung entered into evidence a picture, from video taken by Lee, of Abdullah at the time.

Deputy Public Defender Tehanita Taylor, who is representing Abdullah, cross-examined Lee.

She asked several questions about the door, trying to establish that perhaps it blocked Abdullah's ability to use the sidewalk unobstructed. She also established that Lee did not see Abdullah tear down the flag with his own eyes.

Victim takes the stand

The next person to testify was Aaron Stout, who, in response to a question from Tung identified himself as a gay trans man and said he was walking with his partner on Castro Street when he first saw Abdullah while the two were trying to find a place to eat.

"He was yelling obscenities and tearing up a Pride flag," Stout testified. "I don't recall specifically but he did call us perverts and was saying other homophobic language."

Stout said that initially he didn't take the shouting to be directed at them. But as they turned from Castro to 18th Street going west, Stout said he noticed Abdullah in his peripheral vision, standing behind them.

Then Abdullah started yelling at Stout, he recalled.

"He was yelling at us directly, calling us perverts and fags and saying we should go to hell," Stout said. "He had dropped the rainbow flag at the corner. All he had was a backpack on, that I saw."

Then, Stout felt something hit his foot. A glass bottle — the makeup of a "Starbucks latte bottle you get at a corner store," as Stout described it — had shattered on his foot. Some of the glass got into his hand.

Abdullah was standing six to eight feet away, Stout said.

"He was laughing after I got hit," Stout said. "He said, 'I was aiming for your head.'"

Defense attorney Taylor asked Stout if he had remembered specific words of Abdullah's during his initial interview with police; Stout testified he had not.

After lunch, Taylor continued cross-examining Stout, who testified it "was not difficult" to walk after being hit by the glass bottle, and that Abdullah never said he wanted to "fight [Stout] because [he's] gay."

The next witness was San Francisco Police Officer William Tsang, who took a report two days earlier from a gender-nonconforming person identified as Kiley B.

Kiley told Tsang that someone matching Abdullah's description had punched them while putting up a sign on Noe Street for a "trans liberation day," as the officer described it.

This person reportedly had a sign with the LGBTQ initialism with a circle and 'X' on top of it.

Officer Eric Ma joined Tsang's testimony. Ma was the officer who arrested Abdullah at 18th and Church streets on June 5, he said.

"After he was placed in handcuffs, the defendant started yelling 'Allah Akbar' [in Arabic, 'God is the Greatest'] and said being LGBTQ is wrong multiple times and that what they're doing to kids is wrong," Ma said.

Ma had also seen an email circulating around the police department with a picture, purporting to be of Abdullah, taken after the June 3 Noe Street incident.

Taylor challenged the counts of assault with a deadly weapon, saying that should only be charged "if it was meant to be designed as a deadly weapon."

"A Frappuccino Starbucks bottle is not a dangerous weapon," Taylor said.

Tung disagreed, saying if it had hit Stout and his partner in the head, they could have been victims of great bodily injury.

Thompson agreed with Tung.

"It's not a matter of it being inherently deadly," Thompson said. "It's about whether the weapon is used in such a way as to be uniquely dangerous."

The trial is set for Department 22.

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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