San Francisco, CA — A man who snatched a phone away from a BART passenger he believed was filming him pray during Ramadan was acquitted of robbery today, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced.
Jurors deliberated one day before finding 25-year-old Gathan Hussein of San Francisco not guilty of one count of first degree robbery. Hussein, who had no criminal record, faced up to six years in state prison if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Maria Evangelista.
On Aug. 8, the 21st day of Ramadan, Hussein left work in the Mission and headed to his downtown mosque to break his fast. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed by Muslims worldwide by a month of fasting before sundown.
Hussein was tired, hungry and anxious from lack of food, Evangelista said. He was praying quietly to himself in Arabic when he noticed a 23-year-old man watching him from across the aisle. The man’s phone was facing Hussein, and Hussein noticed a blinking red light.
“Mr. Hussein had been ridiculed by strangers in the past while performing his religious requirements,” Evangelista said. “He decided he was going to erase his image from the man’s phone.”
When Hussein took hold of the phone, the passenger grabbed him by his jacket and the two began struggling. Another passenger, who happened to be a black belt and judo instructor, saw the altercation and sprinted toward the men.
When Hussein saw the black belt running toward him at top speed, he ran onto the platform at the Civic Center station, where the judo instructor tackled him and placed him in a choke hold. A Good Samaritan successfully convinced the man to loosen his hold when Hussein began to lose consciousness.
BART police arrived and arrested him for robbery.
During the three day trial, Hussein’s brother testified that the Yemeni family, which owns two liquor stores in San Francisco, had been harassed for their beliefs in the past. He also testified that taking photographs was forbidden, particularly during the holy month.
Hussein also took the stand, testifying that, looking back, he should have simply asked the passenger to see the phone, but fasting for three weeks had made him anxious and easily upset.
Hussein had no history of theft, and no need to rob anyone, Evangelista argued. At the time of his arrest, he had his own phone and his own money in his pocket.
“In the end, jurors were convinced that Mr. Hussein truly believed he was being videotaped and he grabbed the phone for the sole reason of confronting the passenger with the evidence,” Evangelista said.
Adachi said the incident was a misunderstanding – not a crime.
“Mr. Hussein had reason to believe he was being harassed for praying, since it had happened in the past. His intent was never to rob the passenger. When jurors were able to hear the true story, they cleared him of all charges,” Adachi said.