A San Francisco man who snatched a phone away from a BART passenger who he believed was filming him pray during Ramadan has been acquitted of robbery charges, according to the Public Defender's Office.
Jurors took no longer than a day to decide that 25-year-old Gathan Hussein, San Francisco resident, wasn't guilty of robbery; rather, the incident where Hussein snatched a phone out of a stranger's hand was just a misunderstanding. 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, hopped on BART, and headed to his mosque in downtown where he planned to break his fast.
For obvious reasons, Hussein was tired and hungry. He started praying quietly to himself in Arabic when he noticed a man watching him from across the aisle, according to the Public Defender's Office. The man's phone was facing Hussein, who said he 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."
Hussein took the phone, and the passenger grabbed him by his jacket; the two began to struggle while another passenger -- a black belt and judo instructor -- saw what was going on and sprinted toward the fighting men.
When Hussein saw the man running toward him at top speed, he ran onto the platform at Civic Center station, where the judo instructor tackled him and placed him in a choke hold, according to the Public Defender's Office. Hussein began to lose consciousness so a bystander talked the instructor into letting him loose.
BART police arrived and Hussein was arrested on suspicion of robbery.
During the three-day trial, Hussein's brother testified that their 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, admitting that in retrospect he should have simply asked the passenger to hand him the phone, but because he was malnourished from three weeks of daily fasting, he had become easily anxious and upset.
Hussein had no history of theft, and no need to rob anyone, Evangelista said during trial. 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.