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Hate crime charge for suspect in Fort Pierce mosque attack

By Olivia Hitchcock, For Palm Beach Post, On 15 August 2016, Read Original
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FORT PIERCE — The 25-year-old arrested last month for beating a man outside the Fort Pierce Islamic Center now faces life in prison after the state attorney’s office upped charges calling the act a hate crime.

The Council for American-Islamic Relations welcomed the more severe charge against Taylor Mazzanti, saying it may deter “would-be vigilantes.”

Hate crime charge for suspect in Fort Pierce mosque attack photo

The attack took place in the early hours of July 2 at the mosque. It had been in the news recently because Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people in the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, had worshipped there shortly before the June 12 mass killing.

“Any attack on a Muslim or any worshipper in any community should be prosecuted to the fullest extend of the law,” the council’s communication director Wilfredo Amr Ruiz said in a news release.

Mazzanti originally faced a felony battery charge. Evidence supported the change to the more severe charge, said Assistant State Attorney Sara Hedges of the 19th District.

According to Abdul Rauf Khan, who said he witnessed the beating, “(Mazzanti) said, ‘You Muslims need to go back to where you came from.’ He had been drinking. He was smelling bad. It was a vicious attack. He just started throwing punches.”

A hate crime differs from felony battery charges due to motive, according to Florida statutes. If an attack on someone is based on race, religion, ethnicity, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, or national origin, it may be charged as a hate crime.

The sheriff’s office’s initial investigation failed to reveal “any racially motivated comments” made during the incident, Sheriff Ken. J. Mascara said in a statement. A later report from the sheriff’s office said the incident met the standards of a hate crime, as the act showed prejudice toward a religious group and was done on the grounds of a religious institution.

Police concluded that Mazzanti approached the victim, dressed in a white galabyyia, and began to argue with him, telling him to return to his native country to pray. Worshippers were at the mosque late on a Friday for an all-night prayer during the holy month of Ramadan. Surveillance video from the mosque shows Mazzanti struck the victim “several times in the front and back of the head,” according to a police report.

Mazzanti told police he thought the victim was breaking into vehicles, but he did not call police to investigate the incident. Instead, he confronted the victim, leading to the altercation. The victim was taken to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center for his injuries.

Mazzanti fled the scene after the altercation, police said, and was found an hour later in Port St. Lucie, about five miles south of the mosque. Police found blood on one of Mazzanti’s hands. He told police he had gotten into an altercation with a “guy at the church,” according to a police report.

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