Pittsburgh police arrest Hazelwood man in shooting of cab driver who claims it was hate crime
December 2, 2015 3:43 PM
By Lexi Belculfine / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh police today arrested a taxi passenger who they said shot the cab driver who picked him up at Rivers Casino early Thanksgiving morning.
Anthony L. Mohamed, 26, was arrested at 10:45 a.m. in his Hazelwood home. He faces charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person, court records show.
The taxi driver, a 38-year-old Moroccan immigrant who requested anonymity out of fear for his safety, and leaders of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh described the shooting as a hate crime to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. At a press conference at Pittsburgh police headquarters this afternoon, police would not comment on whether the shooting was a hate crime, citing an ongoing investigation.
Police Lt. Vic Joseph spoke at the press conference. He said that Chief Cameron McLay had spoken with members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations about the incident.
Lt. Joseph would not say whether police had recovered the rifle used in the shooting or if the suspect is cooperating with police. He said that the arrest was not delayed by the Thanksgiving holiday, but that it took a few days for police to identify Mr. Mohamed. He said there was a short period between making the identification and making the arrest.
In a criminal complaint filed today, city police said they viewed surveillance video that showed Mr. Mohamed enter the casino and later leave and get into the Cranberry Taxi driver's cab outside the casino at 1:13 a.m.
The driver told police he took the passenger to Hazelwood, at an intersection police identified as Johnston Ave. at Mansion St.
Mr. Mohamed asked the driver to change parking spots and to wait while he got his wallet because he did not have money, according to the criminal complaint.
Mr. Mohamed returned five minutes later and approached the driver's window with a rifle, police said.
The driver told police he froze and drove forward and then heard the rear window break and realized he'd been shot.
The driver told police, "he is absolutely sure that the male he picked up at the casino is the same male who approached his cab with a rifle and shot him."
Police on Tueday reviewed video taken in the cab, the complaint says.
Mr. Mohamed can be heard saying, "My last name is Mohamed. M-O-H-A-M-E-D."
The victim asks, "What's your name?"
And Mr. Mohamed replies, "Anthony Mohamed, my last name is spelled Mohamed," according to the criminal complaint.
While parked at the intersection, Mr. Mohamed is seen with a gun at the driver's window, and the driver puts his hands in the air before he turns on the cab to drive away. Multiple shots are heard in the footage, and the rear window can be seen shattering, police said.
The driver was treated at Mercy Hospital for a gunshot wound to the upper back, police said. He gave a statement to police there, but the complaint does not indicate if the driver told police he believed the shooting was a hate crime.
The driver told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he picked a man up outside Rivers Casino at about 1 a.m. Thursday, and during the trip to a residence on Second Avenue in Hazelwood, the passenger asked about his background.
The passenger asked if the driver was from Pakistan and talked about ISIS killing people, the driver said.
"I noticed that he changed his tone and he began to satirize Muhammad, my prophet," he said.
When they arrived on Second Avenue, the driver said the passenger went into the home to get his wallet but returned with a rifle.
“I didn’t hesitate. I [made] a fast decision to leave and drove my taxi away because I felt he was going to do something. There is danger. He would shoot me or something. I felt like he had the intention to kill me,” he said.
He said he heard several gunshots, one of which blasted out the back window of his cab and struck him.
The FBI is aware of the shooting, and is evaluating the incident, said Greg Heeb, spokesman for the bureau’s Pittsburgh branch said this weekend.
“All I can really say is that we evaluate all crimes that appear to be racially motivated,” he said.
“Very simply, this is a hate crime and it must be treated as such,” said Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.
Before becoming a cab driver, the victim told the Post-Gazette, he worked in a market. He arrived in Pittsburgh from Morocco five years ago with a bachelor’s degree in English. He said he hopes to become a teacher and plans to bring his wife to this country and raise a family. He is three months away from becoming an American citizen — but he already considers this to be his country and Pittsburgh his city.
Lexi Belculfine: email@example.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. Dan Majors contributed.