The suspect accused of beating two teenage Muslim boys outside a Brooklyn mosque on Sunday morning has been arrested.
Christopher Vallaro, 31, turned himself into the 72nd precinct in Sunset Park on Wednesday morning; he was accompanied by his lawyer. He has been charged with two counts of assault in the third degree, two counts of menacing in the third degree and two counts of harassment in the second degree, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.
Vallaro's lawyer, Sal Strazzullo, said his client was released Thursday on $12,000 bail.
The incident allegedly happened around 1:18 a.m. at the Muslim Community Center of Brooklyn in Sunset Park, after lengthy evening prayers common during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
According to Mohamed Bahe, the director of the mosque, when the two teenagers came back to the mosque after getting a snack they encountered a vehicle with tinted windows on 53rd Street, near the corner of 3rd Avenue — the side entrance to the mosque.
“We had two volunteers, and they saw a suspicious car parked outside of our entrance. They looked at the car, trying to figure out who’s inside. They saw a woman and they asked if she needed help. Then all of a sudden a guy comes across running from the street and punches him and knocks him down. He was stomping him and kicking him,” said Bahe, citing surveillance video from the mosque, also provided to BuzzFeed News.
Bahe said the other teenager, who originally ran away when the attack began, heard the assailant yell, “You fucking terrorist,” as he punched and kicked the first boy.
“The other kid tries to come back and the guy punches him, too,” Bahe said.
Bahe says that’s when people inside the mosque heard the commotion and came outside, causing the assailant to flee on foot.
The mosque director said he recognized the assailant from surveillance footage as a local man, who he said is aware of the mosque and its congregants.
When BuzzFeed News reached out to the New York Police Department’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCPI), a spokesperson was not initially able to find any incident from the 72nd precinct logged in their system from Sunday morning.
However, the same spokesperson later confirmed that the incident had occurred.
"This incident did happen in the vicinity of a mosque to two individuals of Muslim faith," the spokesperson said. "This is going to be classified as a non-bias incident."
"These two individuals were standing outside of the vehicle with a woman who I understand was dressed quite provocatively," he said. "They were not in any Muslim attire."
"The hate crimes unit did interview both victims, who said the suspect didn’t say anything anti-Muslim to them," he added.
Bahe, the mosque’s director, and the victim’s brother, Yousef Emrech, both adamantly deny that the teenagers were harassing the woman before the attack. He said the teenagers were suspicious of the vehicle after a number of incidents involving prostitution and drug consumption on the streets, which he said were common to the area.
"If he (Vallaro) wanted to do something it would have happened a long time ago," Strazzullo said of accusations that the incident was bias-related, adding that Vallaro has lived in the area for five years.
The teenage victim, Amad Emrech, was unavailable for comment.
Bahe, the mosque director, also rejected this assertion from the NYPD spokesperson.
"This is a blatant cover-up," he said, alleging that police had spoken only with the severely injured teen who was first beaten.
Strazzullo said that the district attorney investigated the case and concluded that it wasn't a hate crime, adding that Vallaro has lived in the area for five years.
"He was protecting his girlfriend while she was being accosted by these two individuals," Strazzullo said of his client's actions. "His girlfriend is being accosted by individuals who had no characterization of being Muslims. There was no indication that my client has any ill-will against Muslims."
Despite earlier statements from the NYPD to BuzzFeed News saying, “The hate crimes unit did interview both victims, who said the suspect didn’t say anything anti-Muslim to them,” the Daily News reports that an NYPD spokesperson said the statements "were made in the heat of the moment and were not a motivating factor."
The mosque’s director, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Public Advocate for the City of New York all requested that the NYPD look into the incident as a hate crime.
Bahe said Captain Emmanuel Gonzalez of NYPD’s 72nd precinct visited the mosque on Sunday to apologize for not sending any units to the mosque during Ramadan and that his department is taking the incident seriously.
The 72nd precinct referred all calls from BuzzFeed News to DCPI.
Bahe said that he has repeatedly asked the NYPD’s 72nd precinct for additional detail and security measures for the mosque, citing the month of Ramadan and rising anti-Muslim incidents in the country.
One of the victims suffered a concussion as a result of the attack, according to a Facebook post by Muslims Giving Back, a nonprofit associated with the community center in Brooklyn that feeds the homeless and runs a food pantry.
In the Facebook post, one of the victims is seen on the ground with a swollen and bloody eye as he is tended to by other mosque congregants. Another photo shows blood on the roof of a car.
Another photo posted in the comment section of the Muslims Giving Back Facebook page also showed the black eye of the second victim who “fought off the attacker.”
This latest assault comes after an uptick in anti-Muslim assaults and incidents in the last few months.
On Saturday, a Muslim man was beaten outside the Fort Pierce Islamic Center in Florida, where Omar Mateen, the gunman who opened fire at an Orlando nightclub and killed 49 people, reportedly attended. A suspect was arrested.
On Wednesday, in Minneapolis, two Muslim men were shot in what police are investigating as a hate crime.