BRIGHTON – Nearly a week after the bloody attack on a Hasidic rabbi in Brighton, prosecutors introduced new hate crime and civil rights violation charges against the suspect and called out his alleged antisemitism.
Last Thursday, Boston Municipal Court Judge Steven Key ordered Khaled A. Awad, 24, formerly of Brighton, held without bail for 20 days while a criminal responsibility evaluation was performed at Bridgewater State Hospital.
A dangerousness hearing was postponed until July 29. During last week’s hearing, Awad was arraigned on two new charges relating to hate crimes, and he pleaded not guilty.
In all, Awad faces seven felonies and two misdemeanor charges stemming from the violent July 1 attack on Rabbi Shlomo Noginski outside the Shaloh House in Brighton Center in broad daylight, with the Jewish day school’s children’s camp in session nearby.
“We have added civil rights and hate crime charges,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins during a press conference on the steps of the Brighton Division of Boston Municipal Court. The court building is across the street from the Shaloh House and Brighton Common, where the attack took place.
The two additional charges are a civil rights violation causing injury, and assault and battery to intimidate resulting in bodily injury while armed.
According to state law, if convicted of the civil rights violation, Awad could face up to a $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison, while the other charge carries up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison.
Hate crimes charges were not part of the initial round of charges brought by prosecutors.
Boston Police, including the Civil Rights Unit, the FBI, and other state and local law enforcement agencies worked over the long July Fourth weekend to gather information from Florida, where Awad lived until February, according to Rollins. They also interviewed local witnesses.
“We wanted to make sure we got it right,” Rollins said about the delay in bringing hate crimes charges. “And we have the evidence we needed to prove this. I know people watching this knew in their heart what they believed had happened.
“This rabbi was living a full, authentic life as we are all entitled to do,” Rollins said. “He was wearing a yarmulke standing in front of a school that teaches about the Jewish faith and religion, standing in front of an enormous menorah, and a bus for the Hebrew camp. So we don’t want you to think that we did not know what was happening. We just wanted to make sure we knew a little bit more about this suspect and we could prove these additional two charges.”
The added charges were welcomed by area Jewish leaders, who called the attack on the rabbi a hate crime at a July 2 vigil attended by 500 at the Brighton Common.
“We welcome today’s filing of hate crime charges in the vicious attack against Rabbi Noginski. They are a stark reminder that #antisemitism continues to fuel violence against the Jewish community,” said ADL New England Regional Director Robert Trestan on Twitter. “The charges represent the first step towards accountability and justice for the community.”
“We greatly appreciate the diligence of the Boston Police Department and of DA Rollins in pursuing this investigation and we welcome the decision to file hate crime and civil rights charges,” said Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, in an email.
Awad’s attorney, Stephen Weymouth, said after the hearing he was not surprised by the DA bringing the additional hate crime charges.
“It looked like some sort of crime of opportunity,” Weymouth said. He claimed the report provided by prosecutors was “awfully, awfully slim” in connection with the hate crime charges, despite prosecutors saying witnesses heard Awad express his concerns about Jews, Christians and white people.
“He adamantly denies having those kinds of conversations,” Weymouth said. He was curious to see if prosecutors have information about writings on social media.
In court on July 8, Assistant District Attorney Margaret Hegarty outlined what police detectives learned about the Egyptian-born Awad, who was a student living in Florida until February. Detectives learned from those who knew Awad that he was intolerant of Jews, Christians and America itself, said Hegarty.
The prosecutor said in court Awad’s ire was mainly directed at Jews, that he reportedly said “all Jews are stingy and evil,” and that he had angry outbursts when his views were challenged.
Awad had allegedly said, “They are evil and they control the world,” Hegarty said.
“There were also derogatory comments about Christianity,” she said during the press conference, “but as witnesses in this report informed us, the defendant was especially harsh on Jews as part of who he was.”
The day before the attack, Awad had been spotted near the Shaloh House, acting so suspiciously someone took a picture of him, said Hegarty. Prosecutors also said they believe Awad was acting alone.
As to Awad’s immigration status and whether he was in the country illegally, Rollins said Immigration and Customs Enforcement is involved, but prosecutors did not notify ICE regarding his immigration status. Rollins said she believed a detainer had been lodged on him, but could not provide information on that. Emails to ICE seeking further information were not immediately returned.
Until last Thursday, Awad had been facing only charges in connection with the violent assault.
The two hate crimes charges were lodged as the case took a twist that delayed a dangerousness hearing scheduled for that day.
Weymouth alleged that Awad had past issues surrounding his mental health, and asked that he be evaluated by a court clinician to see whether he was eligible for a criminal responsibility evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital.
Awad was then evaluated by Dr. Helene Presskreischer, who had performed a competency evaluation on him during his first appearance in court on July 2. She reviewed his medical history and said Awad told her he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the past.
Given Awad’s medical history and the fact that he had not been taking his medication since arriving in Massachusetts in February, a further evaluation of him at Bridgewater State Hospital was warranted, Presskreischer said. The judge agreed and ordered him sent there.
During a press conference, Rollins was asked about Awad being evaluated for criminal responsibility with regard to his past mental health issues outlined in court and his intent to commit the crime.
“We of course want to make sure that this person’s mental health is understood, and that does not in any way take away from the fact a violent attack occurred,” she said. “And what we want the community to hear is that this individual is going to be in Bridgewater, getting evaluated for the next 20 days. He will not be in the community.”
Awad’s mental status came up during his initial appearance in court, after he pleaded not guilty to various charges various charges including assault and battery with a knife and assault with a gun, and kicking a police officer during his arrest. He was denied bail and ordered to be held until the July 8 hearing.
Awad had no criminal history in Massachusetts, but had brushes with the law in Florida. Charges there included battery and theft, Hegarty said. “Those cases were dropped as it was determined that the defendant was incompetent at the time,” she said.
Awad was sent to a mental health facility in Florida.
Boston police also learned from Florida authorities that Awad had been barred from his apartment complex in Tampa in February 2021 and was served a protection order on Oct. 15, 2020 by management, “where he had been causing difficulty and disruption, and again, trespassing on a regular basis.”
Court records from Hillsborough County, Florida, show Awad had been found “incompetent to proceed” in a theft case in November 2020. He had been released on his own recognizance to a facility called Gracepoint for treatment and evaluation.
During the initial hearing before Judge Myong Joun, Presskreischer, the psychologist, said she had seen Awad’s medical record and that the defendant “was able to speak very coherently with me today.”
Awad has resided in the U.S. for about four years and is fluent in English, she said.
“He said although he was found incompetent in the past, he did not feel it was an issue today,” Presskreischer said on July 2. She added that if Awad was not able to get further treatment, his condition could deteriorate, meaning he could be referred back to the court clinician for another assessment.
Watch Journal exclusive video interview with Rabbi Shlomo Noginski: https://jewishjournal.org/2021/07/15/jewish-journal-exclusive-watch-an-interview-with-rabbi-shlomo-noginski/