Attorney: High school football players charged because of race

Photo by Daniel Heraty


Answering charges
Star International Academy High School students Hadee Attia (left) and Mohamed Ahmed, along with Canton Township-based attorney Nabih Ayad, address misdemeanor assault and battery charges against the students during a Jan. 24 press conference at the Southfield offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Michigan Chapter. The pair, along with fellow students Ali Bajjey and Fanar Al-Asady, were charged in December following an alleged assault after a football game against Lutheran High School Westland in October.

By DANIEL HERATY
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS – The attorney for four high school football players charged with assault said his clients are being singled out because they are Arab American.

The Star International Academy students, Ali Bajjey, 17; Hadee Attia, 17; Fanar Al-Asady, 17 and Mohammed Ahmed, 18, allegedly gave 15-year-old Lutheran High School Westland quarterback P.J. Guse a concussion during an altercation at the end of a game in October.

The players were suspended from school for two days and charged in December with misdemeanor assault and battery, which carries a 90-day jail term and a fine of $500. They were arraigned Jan. 13 before 20th District Court Judge Mark Plawecki.

During a Jan. 24 press conference at the Southfield headquarters for the Council on American Islamic Relations, Canton Township-based attorney Nabih Ayad said no Middle Eastern witnesses were interviewed and called the investigation “one-sided.”

“Would (prosecutors) have brought these charges had their names been John, Bill or Jason?” Ayad said. “Because of their Arab ethnicity, these charges were brought out with a racial (undercurrent) behind it.”

Police Chief Lee Gavin released a statement saying the department conducted a thorough investigation and submitted the findings to the prosecutor.

Ayad said those who agree to play football at any level waive the right to claim assault and battery because of the game’s physical style of play. He said holding the players to a higher standard than professional players is uncalled for.

“It is indeed a sad day in our criminal justice system when we are criminally charging our high school students for playing football,” he said. “This was a sloppy investigation and charged by the Dearborn Heights Police Department and the Wayne County Prosecutor.”

Ayad filed a motion Jan. 24 asking Plawecki to dismiss the case. The motion claims that what happened on the field was not assault and battery, but “simply young men playing football as it has always been played.”

“We cannot allow this (case) to become a precedent,” Ayad said.

Arab American Civil Rights League Executive Director Rashid Beydoun said the organization was alarmed by the case and said they will continue to investigate. He agreed with Ayad, saying if the case moves forward, players of all sports could be tried the same way.

In a letter to Wayne Count Prosecutor Kym Worthy, C.A.I.R., Michigan Chapter Executive Director Dawud Walid, Beydoun and NAACP Western Wayne County President Aaron Sims called for an investigation into Lutheran Academy assistant coach Jamie Hawley, who they allege threw one of the Star Academy players to the ground during the altercation. Walid called for Worthy to re-evaluate the case and examine the assistant coach’s actions. Hawley was suspended for the following football game.

“We have a situation where an adult who has the trust of being a coach ran on a field during a game,” Walid said, “and we believe assaulted a minor.”

In an email, Lutheran High Westland Principal Steven Schwecke declined to comment for this story.

Guse’s father, Lutheran High School head coach Paul Guse, said the Star Academy players “speared” his son twice with their helmets from behind while his son was on his hands and knees. He said the issue is about the players’ behavior, not ethnicity.

“If that’s the case, I would ask first was the attack racially motivated?” he said. “I never believed it was.”

He said he hopes the final outcome is a lesson for all high school athletes.

“We want them to understand that when they defy authority and choose to do something outside the parameters of the game, there will be consequences,” he said.

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com)