A Muslim man was reportedly assaulted Saturday morning outside the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, which was occasionally visited by Omar Mateen before his shooting rampage in Orlando.
Witnesses say that the unnamed victim lost a tooth in an unprovoked assault by a white man who yelled Islamophobic insults before striking the victim in the head and face.
The suspect, 25-year-old Taylor Mazzanti, was arrested on charges of felony battery and booked into St. Lucie County Jail, where he was released on a $3,750 bond. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney.
Sheriff Ken Mascara said in a statement that the accused attacker had left the scene, but a traffic stop minutes later led to the suspect being apprehended and positively identified by the victim as the man who’d assaulted him.
“Interviews by the deputies and supervisors on scene and a written witness statement completed by the victim do not indicate any racially-motivated comments were made by the suspect prior to, during, or after the incident,” Mascara said. “However, we are further investigating the incident and detectives will be interviewing the suspect, victim and (an) apparent witness that has now been identified by the Council of Islamic-American Relations.”
The Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) disagrees with this account. CAIR reports that the assistant executive director of the Muslim non-profit organization, Islamic Circle of North America Relief, was with the victim at the time of the assault, and that the attacker, who appeared intoxicated, approached them spouting racial slurs and offensive language, saying “You Muslims need to get back to your country,” before attacking the victim.
“He had been drinking. He was smelling bad. It was a vicious attack. He just started throwing punches,” said Abdul Rauf Khan, the senior official from Islamic Circle of North America Relief who witnessed the attack.
Khan reports that he was heading to early morning prayer at 4 a.m. Saturday when the victim asked for his help retrieving the keys he’d locked in his car, which he was trying to recover using a coat hanger. The two men were standing nearly side-by-side, with the victim nearer to the street, when a man in a white pickup truck pulled up, got out of the car, and approached them from behind, at which time the altercation took place.
25-yr-old Taylor Mazzanti arrested, charged with felony battery after attacking Muslim man outside Ft. Pierce mosque pic.twitter.com/b68dFJrPfX— WPTV (@WPTV) July 2, 2016
According to CAIR spokesman Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, the sheriff’s department of St. Lucie County has repeatedly ignored requests from the Islamic Center for heightened security after Omar Mateen killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub two weeks ago.
“Unfortunately, our requests were repeatedly ignored,” said Ruiz, who criticized the sheriff’s office for not providing additional security. “This should not have happened. For over two weeks, we have been emphasizing that the community from the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce needs to be offered security from the sheriff’s office”
“The untruthful rhetoric from the mosque and its spokesperson is doing nothing more than trying to bring empathy to their cause, which I hope our community recognizes,” Sheriff Mascara shot back. “My office, including myself and our agency Chaplain, have repeatedly attempted to communicate with the mosque to explore options of working together and there has been no response.”
In any case, the incident took place less than a day after CAIR’s Florida branch filed a public records request with the sheriff’s office asking for an explanation for why the imam at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce wasn’t granted his request for additional security.
“This was probably the No. 1 potential target for hate crimes in America,” Ruiz is on record having told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday.
[Image by St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office via AP]