BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — Hassan Yehia Chokr appeared before the 48th District Court in Bloomfield Hills on Monday, facing charges of ethnic intimidation and anti-Semitism after he had an argument on December 2 with the residents and security guards at Temple Beth El, a synagogue that includes a kindergarten.
After listening to the testimonies of the witnesses, Judge Kimberly Small set January 5 as the court date to decide whether to direct the aforementioned charges against the Lebanese-born defendant, whose legal team requested a medical treatment for him due to the chronic deterioration of his psychological and mental health.
Meanwhile, Chokr, 35, is still behind bars, after Judge Julie Nelson-Klein ordered him to be imprisoned in Oakland County Jail on a bail of $1 million in cash on December 5.
According to the details of the incident, Chokr arrived in a white van at the parking lot of Temple Beth El at about 9 a.m. on Dec 2. Parents of the children were driving their children to the kindergarten located within the religious institution that dates back to the middle of the 19th century.
According to the officials at Temple Beth El, Chokr was hostile and engaged in verbal altercations with members of the synagogue. He asked them if they were supporters of the Israeli occupation of Palestinians, directed verbal insults at them such as “Uh… the Jews” and “Uh… Israel” and threatened them with divine punishment. He also directed racist insults at the security guards, who are African Americans, using the “N word” when they asked him to leave the premises.
After leaving, Chokr was stopped by the Bloomfield Police, who were summoned by authorities at Temple Beth El. However, the officers who stopped him refrained from arresting him, due to the lack of sufficient evidence to accuse him of ethnic intimidation, which sparked some criticism of the behavior of the local police.
After being arrested when a warrant was issued by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, Chokr was released on personal bail pending another case, as he awaits trial on charges of assaulting a police officer in 2020. When he appeared on video before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Regina Thomas on December 12, to amend the terms of his release in light of the new case, Chokr mooned the camera, prompting Judge Thomas to cut the broadcast. She decided to keep Chokr in detention without bail.
At the initial hearing on December 19, Chokr sat quietly next to his lawyer, Nabih Ayad, and they listened to witness statements. They also watched video clips that showed Chokr driving his car back and forth in the synagogue parking lot while parents dropped their children off at the kindergarten.
Julie Kramer, a member of Temple Beth El, said that Chokr shouted at her, saying, “Do you support Israel?”
“I remember I was taking my daughters and he was shouting behind me in a strong voice asking if I supported the state of Israel, I told him, ‘Yes’ and I turned, but he yelled again. ‘How dare you? You’re done, you’ll pay the price.’”
Kramer said she and her daughters were subjected to these verbal attacks over and over again, pointing out that Chokr continued to insult them as he drove around the place.
Ayad admitted that his client’s behavior was “disgraceful.
“What he said is unfortunate and bad, as you can see, it was disgusting,” Ayad told Judge Small. “As you know, your honor, America is not Afghanistan or Iraq. We have something called the First Amendment, and this Amendment gives us freedom to say whatever we want.”
Monday’s session was supposed to bring charges of ethnic intimidation and anti-Semitism against Chokr, but Judge Small postponed her decision to Jan. 5.
Federal charges against Chokr
In addition to charges of ethnic intimidation and anti-Semitism, Chokr also faces federal charges for falsifying information in gun purchase transactions, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan on December 15.
Chokr was charged Thursday with a federal complaint of lying on a federal firearms form when he sought to buy a shotgun, a rifle and a semi-automatic pistol, according to U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison.
According to the federal complaint, after going to the synagogue, Chokr tried to purchase three guns and falsely claimed he had not been previously convicted of a felony.
The statement indicated that Chokr was convicted in 2017 of illegal possession and use of a financial transmission machine. He also faces a pending charge of criminal assault with a dangerous weapon.
The statement pointed out that the National Instant Criminal Record Examination System for arms buyers did not accept Chokr’s requests for purchasing several weapons, including a 12 mm rifle, a 5.56 mm rifle and a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.
Mental health treatment
Chokr’s legal team and his family condemned his behavior and said that he suffers from mental illnesses, expressing their regret that young children outside the synagogue were subject to his offensive comments.
“He is not feeling well,” Ayad said. “He needs help and treatment, not a prison cell.”
One of Chokr’s brothers explained that he “has been in and out of mental health institutions for years, but he did not receive the help he needed.”