For weeks afterward, Kaderbhai Ali Asgar couldn’t sleep.
As immigrant Muslims of Indian descent, he and his wife, Sehera Ali Asgar, had experienced discrimination in the US before. But, it had never been like this.
By late 2016, the Tampa, Florida family was planning a move to the city’s upscale Davis Islands neighborhood. They found a house they liked, placed it under contract and scheduled a final walk-through before completing the sale.
On November 3, 2016, Kaderbhai and his wife showed up at their soon-to-be home dressed in traditional Indian clothing, as they normally do. Kaderbhai wore a topi, a woven cap Muslim men wear, and his wife and mother-in-law wore head scarves.
Then, a neighbor walked over and began yelling at the seller.
“You lied to me, you lied to me, you told me those people would not be moving into the house!” yelled the man, who was later identified as David H. Howard, according to court documents. “I will break all of your f—ing windows, and I will burn your f—ing house down!”
Then, the man turned to the family and said “You are not welcome here!” In the days afterward, he made insulting comments about Muslims to his neighbors and asked a mover if he was “moving the dotheads in.”
After hearing Howard’s comments, Kaderbhai and his family quickly got into their car and drove away. They canceled the home purchase the next day.
Kaderbhai told an FBI agent and prosecutors that he was “shocked beyond imagination,” according to court documents. He said the episode made him and his family “think twice about expressing their faith and religion – an injury worse than any broken bone or destroyed property.”
An eight-month prison sentence
On Tuesday, Howard pleaded guilty to several violations, including threatening the family with a dangerous weapon and trying to interfere with their housing because of factors such as race or religion.
US District Court Judge Mary S. Scriven sentenced Howard to eight months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release. Howard was also ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution to Kaderbhai to make up for the deposit his family lost when they pulled out of buying the house.
CNN has reached out to Howard’s lawyer, David Scott Boardman, by phone and email for comment and is waiting to hear back.
Howard, 59, said in court that he was “a good person” and “this incident just happened.” He also told the judge he is dying of AIDS and the steroids he was taking to combat his weight loss were what caused his outburst, The Tampa Bay Times reported.
The judge responded “We’re not talking about something that happened to you, we’re talking about your behavior.”
In a statement, US Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez said “[The] sentencing should send a clear message that we will vigorously uphold our nation’s civil rights laws. Crimes perpetrated against people because of who they are or what they believe simply cannot be tolerated.”
Kaderbhai has also filed a civil suit against Howard and another neighbor who came into the house during the walk-through. The neighbor yelled the Asgar family was “f—ing up the neighborhood,” according to court documents.
An emotional road for the victims
Other anti-Muslim incidents have taken place in Florida recently. A man was arrested in St. Augustine last month and faces criminal charges after he pulled a stun gun on some Muslim international students at a McDonald’s, according to USA TODAY.
And, anti-Muslim bias incidents and hate crimes jumped nationwide in the year after the 2016 US presidential election, according to a 2018 report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Kaderbhai’s lawyer, Randi Morales, said this has been a very emotional road for Kaderbhai.
“He is very grateful to the FBI and the DOJ, and they believe the court gave the right sentence,” Morales said.