The San Francisco Public Defender's Office today announced the acquittal of a 21-year-old man who had been in jail since an arrest last June in connection with a series of incidents described as hate crimes in the Castro.

Muhammad Abdullah was arrested in early June 2023 following an incident in the Castro neighborhood in which he allegedly yelled homophobic slurs at a 40-year-old man and a 58-year-old man, shouted "kill the gays," and threw a glass bottle that hit one of the men in the foot.

Abdullah was also implicated in another incident that happened two days earlier in the neighborhood in which he got in some sort of physical altercation with someone. And he was accused of ripping down and stealing a rainbow flag from an area business.

He would then appear in court for an arraignment, during which time he spoke about his religious beliefs and told the judge that no matter whether a person is Christian, Jewish or Muslim, being LGBTQ goes "against God."

"What the LGBT community is doing to kids is disrespectful to everyone who stands for God," Abdullah reportedly said at the time.

His public defender at that hearing told the Bay Area Reporter that Abdullah "doesn't have a lot of family," and "has some religious principles he was socialized in."

Following a jury trial, Abdullah was acquitted on May 9, 2024 of the charges against him, which included battery, theft, assault, and hate crime allegations. In a press release, the SF Public Defender's Office says that Abdullah, who had no prior criminal record, was wrongly charged, and was in the midst of a mental health crisis at the time of his arrest.

The Public Defender's Office says that, in court testimony, an SFPD officer admitted that "he had misrepresented the facts in a police report" from June 3, 2023 in which he stated that Abdullah had attacked a man "unprovoked." The attorneys provided evidence that it was this other man who grabbed and attacked Abdullah first, because he was offended by a sign that Abdullah was carrying.

Regarding the accusation that Abdullah through a bottle at two men on June 5, the attorneys say that "police failed to gather any forensic evidence or available surveillance footage to support that claim."

The jury acquitted Abdullah of all the charges and hate-crime enhancements associated with these incidents, as well as a petty theft charge relating to the alleged Pride flag removal.

While it certainly seems like Abdullah, mental health crisis or no, was repeatedly hanging around in the Castro with some intent to protest LGBTQ lifestyles or harass individuals there, there ultimately was insufficient evidence in the case, the defense attorneys say.

But what exactly did the jury hear?

The Bay Area Reporter recounts testimony from a preliminary hearing in the case last year, including that of Jayden Lee, who was an employee at Ampersand flower shop on Market Street between Sanchez and Church — the store from which the Pride flag was taken. Lee testified that he heard a ripping sound and went to the door to see that Abdullah had ripped down the rainbow flag. When asked why he did it, Abdullah allegedly said "This is nasty," and walked off. Lee also snapped a photo of Abdullah at the time.

"Especially during Pride Month, it felt like a personal attack," Lee told the court.

One of the alleged victims in another of the incidents, gay trans man Aaron Stout, testified that he and his partner were walking in the neighborhood when they encountered Abdullah "yelling obscenities and tearing up a Pride flag."

As the two men walked away, Stout says that Abdullah was yelling at them. "He was yelling at us directly, calling us perverts and fags and saying we should go to hell," Stout told the court. Stout says that he felt something hit the back of his foot, described as a "Starbucks latte bottle you get at a corner store," which then shattered on the street.

Stout alleged that Abdullah, who was standing about eight feet away, was laughing. "He said, 'I was aiming for your head.'"

It's unclear whether the jury heard any of this testimony.

"The jury was rightfully critical of the misleading police work and held the state to its burden of proof, which was wholly insufficient in this case," says Deputy Public Defender Tal Klement, who was one of two attorneys who represented Abdullah.

The attorneys also suggest that it was unjust that Abdullah spent 340 days in jail.

"We thank the jury for evaluating the evidence and returning a just verdict, but it is unfortunate that Mr. Abdullah had to endure nearly a year of incarceration leading up to this full acquittal," says Deputy Public Defender Deborah Awolope. Awolope further notes that the District Attorney and the court "rejected an earlier motion to admit Abdullah into a Mental Health Diversion program, which could have helped him access important treatment resources out of custody."

Awolope adds, "After the jury acquitted him of all charges, he was released from jail late at night with no plan for his future treatment."

In a statement, San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju said, "I commend the defense team for uncovering the problems with the state’s claims against Mr. Abdullah, especially as it involved both sensitivities around the civil liberties of our LGBTQ+ community members and the dire need of people with mental health disabilities on our street."

Raju adds, "All of our communities deserve to live in peace, which is why our office continues to advocate for more preventative resources to help people who are in crisis, rather than ever-increasing funding for the costly and harmful carceral system."

Previously: Castro Hate-Crime Suspect May Have Repeatedly Targeted the Neighborhood, Tells Judge the LGBTQ Community Goes 'Against God'

Photo: Wikimedia