HUDSON — Mohammed Ali, of Hudson, was indicted Friday on first-degree sexual abuse, a class D felony, less than two months after he was charged with a number of sexual-assault offenses.
Friday’s charge stemmed from an incident involving having sexual contact with a child under the age of 11 during the summer of 2014, according to the indictment.
Ali was charged in court Aug. 12 with two counts of predatory sexual assault against a child, a class A-II felony; two counts of first-degree rape, a class B felony; first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, a class B felony; second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, a class D felony; and three counts of first-degree sex abuse, a class D felony.
Because the indictment was sealed, Columbia County Court Justice Richard Koweek did not discuss the indictment with any of the parties before court Friday. Ali’s attorney Michael Howard requested video not be recorded during Friday’s court proceedings, because footage has been used by Bengali news outlets and has stirred up members of the Bengali community in an inappropriate fashion, Howard said.
Koweek allowed video and audio to be recorded when testimonies were not heard.
District Attorney Paul Czajka said after Friday’s court proceedings, the presumption of innocence has been largely ignored.
“This defendant, like all defendants, is presumed to be innocent, and that presumption means nothing — that presumption is no less inviolate because of the horrific nature of the target,” Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said. “Because the charges were exactly that, they’re charges. The fact that the grand jury has voted an indictment is evidence of nothing. It will be my obligation on behalf of the people of the state of New York to prove this defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to all 12 of 12 jurors, and that’s just like any other case, whether it’s a bank robbery, a rape, a burglary or a traffic ticket, for that matter, and the fact that this man has been charged with something we find particularly offensive does not mean he is any less have the right to that presumption.”
While Ali is an immigrant, it does not make the presumption of innocence any less applicable, Czajka added. Local politicians recently may have taken advantage of one or more of the victims’ rights to the rape shield law, which protects anonymity, for their own political purposes, he said.
“Those very politicians should be aware of the fact that this defendant, like all defendants, is presumed to be innocent and the right to privacy for the survivors, are the survivors’, is the survivors’ own right and they should not be taking advantage of it for their own political gain,” Czajka said.
He referenced the Sept. 14 Hudson Common Council meeting, when Quintin Cross asked to hear from individual council members about the allegations against Ali, Czajka added.
“A former politician whose presumption of innocence has previously been overcome by his finding of guilt in this very building for having stolen from this very city is giving the cue to these politicians to seek some kind of statement from members of the Common Council who happen to be naturalized citizens and certain members of the Common Council are in fact taking up on that cue,” Czajka said. “Anyone who understands a presumption of innocence. Anyone who understands a victim, a survivor’s right to privacy, should be offended by that.”
Cross does not think supporting the victims removes the presumption of innocence, he said.
“I stand with the victims,” Cross said. “We have to trust women. We have to listen when folks say they’ve been abused and hurt. It does not take away the presumption of innocence, but it acknowledges their right — the victims’ right — to exist and be heard.”
Cross questioned Czajka’s decision to speak up about reactions to the case.
“It is very interesting to see that the district attorney wants to chastise people for standing up for Black and brown women who are from communities that have been traditionally marginalized, but has yet to speak up on that issue that happened in Kinderhook with the rich and powerful white folks in the Harold Handy case,” Cross said.
Handy was allegedly assaulted July 5 at the home of a Columbia County sheriff’s deputy. He sustained critical injuries after a group allegedly beat him at a Fourth of July party just after 1 a.m. No arrests were made as of Friday.
At the Sept. 15 meeting, Garriga encouraged men from the council speak first.
Fourth Ward Alderman John Rosenthal, 4th Ward Alderman Malachi Walker, 5th Ward Alderman Dominic Merante, 3rd Ward Alderman Calvin Lewis, 2nd Ward Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga, 1st Ward Alderwoman Jane Trombley and Common Council President Tom DePietro shared their support for the victims. Third Ward Alderman Shershah Mizan and 2nd Ward Alderman Dewan Sarowar did not comment when Garriga prompted them.
“Their silence is complacency,” Claire Cousin said.
Mizan and Sarowar are part of Hudson’s Bengali community and have faced criticism for not publicly supporting the accusations against Ali. Both aldermen have said the case will be decided by the court.
Jaago Hudson, a support group for South Asian survivors of sexual violence, has pressured all of Hudson’s Bengali representatives to make public statements of support.
The Bengali women pressuring Bengali city and county officials to support the victims are like daughters to him, Second Ward Supervisor Abdus Miah said, adding he cannot comment on the case until it is decided in court.
“This makes me very unhappy...I don’t want to see a bad thing like that happen to anybody,” he said Sept. 15. “I’m not supporting Mohammed Ali or [Farzana] Moshi [an alleged victim in Ali’s case] until the court decides.”
Miah made a public Facebook post Sept. 20 emphasizing the case decision is left to the court, but also voiced support for an alleged victim.
“About the recent assault issue/case that happened in my community, I have my full support and sympathy for the victim and family,” according to the supervisor’s Facebook post. “Please know that this case is ACTIVE in the court. As a supervisor, I respect the law and its courts decision to make [sic]. I believe the court will give proper justice to the victim.”
The city’s Bengali representatives should be commended, Czajka said, because the case will be decided by jurors, not politicians or council members.
Czajka also addressed efforts to defund Hudson police in conjunction with this case.
“Now it is of critical importance that everyone know that without the expertise and the good work of the Hudson Police Department, this defendant would never have been here, and the likelihood of his conviction would decrease substantially,” he said.
At Friday’s indictment, Assistant District Attorney Krista Kline requested Ali be held in custody.
Ali’s bail was previously set at $10,000 to 20,000, $20,000 to 40,000 and $40,000 to 80,000, Howard said.
“He is being not dealt with in an appropriate fashion, I assert,” Howard said, adding Ali has complied with court appearances.
No additional bail will be required, Koweek said.
The people’s compliance conference will take place Oct. 9. A time was not scheduled as of Friday afternoon; the defendant’s compliance conference will take place 9:15 a.m. Nov. 9, and a pretrial hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 29.
A trial date has not been determined.
The compliance conferences will be held virtually, which Howard objected to because Ali needs a translator, Koweek said.
“I have no problem making this as close to what it used to be,” Koweek said, adding he will ask the translator to attend the hearings in person.