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I Islamophobia

Tampa men sue ex-cop who held them at gunpoint, made anti-Muslim comments

By Dan Sullivan, For Tampa Bay Times, On 26 August 2016, Read Original
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Katherine Heffner, a civil rights staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida, is representing two Muslim men who had a gun pointed at them about a year-and-a-half ago. In December 2014, Samer Samhoury and his cousin, Samer Saqer had a gun pointed at them at the Allstar Body Shop of Tampa. After the incident, police found the gun was loaded and arrested Paul Ryan Young, who pleaded guilty to criminal charges and was sentenced to probation. On Thursday morning, Heffner filed a complaint in Hillsborough County Circuit Court on Samhoury and his cousin’s behalf. [ANDRES LEIVA | Times]

 

TAMPA — One afternoon in late 2014, two American citizens of Palestinian descent got into a spat with the owner of a Tampa auto body shop over the price of a detail job. As the argument escalated, the owner's son, a former Pinellas sheriff's deputy named Paul Ryan Young, ran to a car and got a gun.

He pointed it at the men and threatened to "blow their heads off" and "bury them like Osama bin Laden," a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy reported.

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Samer Samhoury, a 35-year-old from Lutz, speaks with the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida civil rights staff attorney Katherine Heffner on Thursday about his encounter with an employee of Allstar Body Shop of Tampa who pointed a loaded gun at him and his cousin in December 2014. [ANDRES LEIVA | Times]

"I hate your kind!" Young said, according to court records, using obscenities while calling them Muslims and Arabs. "You are always b------- about the price. I don't want you here. Go back to Afghanistan!"

What happened that day, Dec. 9, 2014, is the basis of a lawsuit filed Thursday against Young, 32, and his family's business. The Council on American-Islamic Relations brought the suit on behalf of cousins Samer Saqer and Samer Samhoury, the men Young threatened.

Although Young had been arrested and later pleaded guilty in criminal court, his monthslong probation sentence was "a slap on the wrist," they say.

"It messed me up mentally to where I don't trust anybody," Samhoury said. "I want him to pay for his crime because I don't want him to do it again."

The civil complaint gives an account of the chain of events that led to the confrontation. It states that Saqer, a car salesman, had conducted repeated business over five years at Allstar Body Shop at 905 E 129th Ave., which Young's family owned.

On the day in question, Young's father, Paul Douglas Young, had quoted Saqer $300 to have a car detailed and refused to negotiate a lower price, the complaint states. As the argument ensued, Paul Ryan Young interrupted, attacking the men's religious and cultural background.

Samhoury, who is a federal agent with the Internal Revenue Service, tried to calm Young, the lawsuit states. At one point, he moved to his car to retrieve his federal agent identification, a sheriff's report states.

Young ran to his own car and retrieved a 9mm handgun, according to the suit. He pointed it at both men.

Saqer and Samhoury moved slowly to their car as Young continued to point the gun at them, the suit states. As the men backed away, Young pushed Saqer at least once, the complaint states.

After the cousins got in their car and drove away, they notified sheriff's deputies. Young was arrested on two counts of aggravated assault, but later pleaded guilty to the lesser offenses of simple assault and improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon.

In an interview with a sheriff's deputy after the incident, Young said he pulled the gun and held it at his side, fearing that Samhoury was going for a weapon of his own, according to a sheriff's report. He could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Young was briefly a deputy for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in 2012, leaving the force shortly after he successfully completed a probationary employment period. State records show he was with the Haines City Police Department for about a week in 2010 before resigning.

Shortly before he was arrested, he told deputies he did not want his name associated with a report of the incident because he was trying to apply with another law enforcement agency, the sheriff's report states.

Saqer and Samhoury were both born in the United States. Their suit seeks unspecified damages they suffered due to emotional distress and lost wages.

CAIR became aware of the case shortly after Young's arrest, said Katherine Heffner, a civil rights staff attorney for the organization. Heffner said they brought the lawsuit in part to call attention to the prevalence of anti-Muslim discrimination.

"If you look at the climate right now, it's hard to be Muslim and it shouldn't be," Heffner said. "We have a constitutional right to freedom of expression of religion.

"This is America. No one should be threatened with violence just because of the God they believe in."