by Anita Woo
On the afternoon of January 27, 2018, African American Munzir Yahia Sirag, the defendant, was walking with Caucasian “Ms. B,” the alleged victim. They got into a fight and Mr. Sirag was arrested on a total of three counts: rudely touching Ms. B, damaging her wireless device, and delaying an officer.
In his testimony, Officer Tony Dias began by silently watching the defense’s video of Sirag’s questioning after his arrest. Mr. Sirag was calm and collected throughout the police interview.
Mr. Sirag told his side of the story, saying he was angry Ms. B did not return his $300 and his phone, which she claimed she had lost. She started yelling at him but he did not hit her even after she slapped him. This restraint was due to the fact the two had shared a bottle of wine early in the morning – Sirag insisted he “could have hit her” but, from previous experiences of fights after drinking, he knew the violence would escalate. Mr. Sirag has never contacted the police about this behavior, knowing Ms. B would claim he was insane. Sirag stressed that he had visited a general hospital once and the physician said he was not insane. In fact, Ms. B often complains about him when she is drinking, but forgets when she’s sober.
Instead of hitting her, Mr. Sirag didn’t hesitate to admit he threw vegetables at her. People saw the incident and a guard called the police.
Officer Dias continued his testimony, saying he was called on the scene and went up to Mr. Sirag. Sirag was calm, while Ms. B was loud, but non-responsive to the police. The officer tried talking to Ms. B but she refused to reply. He tried to offer her helpful resources for domestic abuse victims (such as the victim’s compensation) but Ms. B rejected his help. She only wanted to leave. From her slurred speech and stumbling, Dias believed she was “under the influence of an alcoholic beverage.”
The People questioned why Officer Dias asked Mr. Sirag if he had used alcohol that day. Dias replied that, in his experience, drugs were correlated with domestic violence.
The People then asked why Dias took Mr. Sirag into custody. Dias explained the domestic aggressor is usually arrested, and he believed there was probable cause for that to be Sirag, and so he arrested him. The defense cross-examined Dias about how much experience he had in identifying the dominant aggressor. Dias responded that was from his investigation of 100 domestic abuse cases, although he didn’t always identify the dominant aggressor correctly every time. He merely arrested Mr. Sirag on probable cause.
Ms. B was next to take the stand and was initially very serene. On the morning of January 27, she and Mr. Sirag were in a relationship. They shared wine in the morning but later engaged in an argument. She firmly stated she had no idea what they were arguing about. When asked if she was hit by a closed fist, Ms. B calmly answered yes. Yet, when asked to recall where she was hit, Ms. B answered rapidly, “I don’t know. I don’t recall.” She confirmed she had been hit by a potato but didn’t know where on her body she was hit, since she was trying to defend herself. Meanwhile, she insisted she didn’t hit him in any way, emphasizing, “I didn’t want to get him in trouble…I love him.”
She then recalled she had her purse with her, and didn’t think the argument was about her phone. Her phone, however, was shattered on the ground by Mr. Sirag.
In cross-examination, the defense asked if Ms. B wanted her photo taken (to document her injuries), or her sunglasses and her phone returned. The victim adamantly refused. The defense then questioned whether Ms. B had bruises, and she stated, “I had bruises everywhere, especially my legs.” She gave no further details, claiming she didn’t want to say any more than she had to. Additionally, the alcohol had blurred her memory.
The defense then moved on to an incident that occurred in April of 2016 involving the two. Ms. B bit Mr. Sirag in sexual play but he took it wrong. Her son heard a scream, broke the door, and carried her out but didn’t touch Mr. Sirag. When the police came, Ms. B cooperated and wanted to give as much information as possible. Yet when asked by the defense if she considered herself a victim of domestic abuse, she said flatly “never.”
In closing arguments, the People reinforced that count one, battery of spouse or cohabitant, applies because Ms. B was hurt with intent from Mr. Sirag hitting her and throwing vegetables at her. It was battery done in harmful manner, as well as domestic violence because they were in a relationship. Mr. Sirag’s actions were not in self-defense because he hit her and continued hurting her despite the police showing up. While Ms. B wasn’t sober and may not be too credible as a witness, Mr. Sirag had also been intoxicated. The only one who was sober was the guard who witnessed the incident and made the call. As for count two, Mr. Sirag maliciously destroyed Ms. B’s phone so she could not call 9-1-1. Officers had also testified, “It’s shattered on the ground,” and “he smashed it on the ground.” “Shattered” and “smashed” meant the phone wasn’t dropped but was deliberately broken with force. Lastly, Officer Alex Torres was doing his job when Mr. Sirag obstructed him by not complying. Initially, as the sole officer, Torres attempted to secure the victim’s safety and announced he was the police. He told Mr. Sirag to sit, but Mr. Sirag walked away saying, “I don’t care” and followed the victim. Although the delay may not have been significant, the prosecution pointed out that every second counts.
The defense argued against the credibility and clarity of the witnesses in this case. In fact, the guard said Mr. Sirag hit Ms. B multiple times, then he said three times and finally only once because a person blocked his view. The guard may have been stressed, but what he thought happened isn’t what really happened. Officer Torres wasn’t clear either, because he investigated the argument only after the fight started – he wouldn’t have known who started it. Ms. B was the most unclear of the bunch. She was vague throughout her story, left out small details or couldn’t recall due to intoxication, and was uncooperative toward police as well as the defense attorney. She had refused to document her injuries and rejected help from officers. Her behavior indicated she may have been “acting up.” The slap, resulting from her agitation, registered with Mr. Sirag as an imminent threat that he had to defend against, making count one invalid. Count two wouldn’t apply because Ms. B claimed she didn’t know what the argument was about, therefore the phone wasn’t destroyed to prevent her from calling 9-1-1. Lastly, Mr. Sirag wasn’t intentionally delaying Officer Torres. Mr. Sirag attempted to pull away and was shoved on the ground – and the cam wasn’t turned on until he was on the ground. Mr. Sirag answered all questions truthfully and did as he was told. Thus, stated the defense, there’s reasonable doubt Torres was delayed. The defense reminded jurors that police are inconvenienced every day and not everyone complies immediately. Mr. Sirag may not have complied at first, but he cooperated calmly afterwards.