A Tampa, Florida man, who threatened an Indian American Muslim couple with arson as they tried to purchase a home in his neighborhood, was sentenced June 12 to eight months in prison for committing a felony hate crime.
David H. Howard, who pleaded guilty in February of verbally assaulting and threatening to set fire to the prospective home of Kaderbhai Ali Asgar and his wife Sehera, will also undergo three years of parole after serving out his prison sentence. The 59 year-old-man suffers from AIDS and takes anti-depressants, according to court documents.
“We have lived in America for more than a decade, and we have never experienced this kind of racism. It is the worst nightmare anyone could ever face,” Kaderbhai Asgar told India-West. The founder of A-One Engineering, who is a native of Mumbai, said: “For a few months, we were all worried to leave the house.”
In November 2016, the Asgars, accompanied by their adult children and in-laws, went to close the sale on the house they had purchased in Davis Island, an upscale neighborhood in Tampa that abuts three bays and is close to a thriving downtown.
As they came to the house dressed in traditional Indian garb, including a topi (hat) for Kaderbhai, and headscarves for the women, Howard came out of his house across the street, and started to rant angrily at the seller. "You lied to me, you lied to me, you told me those people would not be moving into the house,” Howard yelled, according to court documents.
As the seller's realtor called 9-1-1, Howard then yelled, "This sale will not take place. I will break all of your f***ing windows and I will burn your f***ing house down."
He repeated his rant a second time before facing the Asgars directly to say: “You are not welcome here,” according to court documents.
The Asgars hurried to their car and fled the neighborhood. Howard attempted to follow them on foot, but then returned to his home, which he shares with his partner, attorney Bret Hamlin.
The Asgars cancelled the sale the following day, on Nov. 4, 2016. They subsequently underwent a struggle with the sellers, who refused to refund a $30,000 deposit.
Kaderbhai Asgar told India-West the family has yet to buy another house. The family chose Davis Island, he said, because of its proximity to beaches and downtown Tampa. The neighborhood also boasts great schools, he said.
Many houses in the neighborhood are listed on Zillow at upwards of $1 million. The Asgars had put down their deposit on the 4-bedroom, 3-bath home of 2,766 square feet, currently valued at $853,000.
After the incident, the Asgars initially thought they could restore peace with Howard. They initiated a friendship walk through the neighborhood, and were joined by almost all the neighbors except Howard, according to Kaderbhai, who said the people in his current neighborhood have always treated him like a relative.
Howard did not answer a call for comment left on his home phone.
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director at the Council for American Islamic Relations, told India-West: “This is representative of the unprecedented spike we have seen in anti-Muslim rhetoric since the beginning of the Trump administration.”
“Trump has empowered those who might have been silent. They feel freer to spew their hate-filled rhetoric,” he said.
Hooper encouraged people facing similar threats to “assert and maintain your rights.”
“This Justice Department will not stand by when individuals use violence and intimidation to deny fair housing rights,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore in a press statement after the sentencing. “The Civil Rights Division will continue to prosecute crimes like this one that deprive families of a safe place to live.”
“Today’s sentence should send a clear message that we will vigorously uphold our nation’s civil rights laws,” said United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez. “Crimes perpetrated against people because of who they are or what they believe simply cannot be tolerated.”
“We will not allow hate motivated crimes to infiltrate our communities and threaten our citizens,” said Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Tampa Division, Eric Sporre, in a press statement.