IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Asian America

Muslim legislator attacked outside Eid-al Adha prayer in Connecticut says incident should be looked into as a hate crime

Rep. Maryam Khan says she was choked and slammed to the ground by a man who made sexual advances toward her and her young children. She wishes police had done more.
Rep. Maryam Khan, surrounded by friends, family and fellow lawmakers, at a news conference in Hartford, Conn., Thursday July 6, 2023.
Rep. Maryam Khan, surrounded by friends, family and fellow legislators, at a news conference in Hartford, Conn., on July 6.Susan Haigh / AP

A Muslim legislator in Connecticut is calling for a hate crime investigation after she was brutally attacked outside an Eid-al Adha prayer service last month. She said that she felt her body go numb as the attacker held her in a chokehold and that she feels law enforcement minimized the incident. 

Rep. Maryam Khan, 34, who became the first Muslim elected to Connecticut’s House of Representatives last year, said she was taking photos outside an annual Eid-al Adha prayer service at Hartford’s XL Center when a man approached her.

The man, whom police identified as Andrey Desmond, 30, allegedly made sexual advances toward Khan and her two daughters, who are 15 and 10. She said he slapped her, put her in a chokehold and slammed her against the ground. 

“I tried to de-escalate. I tried to distract,” she said. “He just kept persisting.”

Khan said she yelled for help, but police said officers stationed at the event had already ended their shifts. After she made several attempts to free herself, civilian men intervened, and she was able to get to safety. 

Desmond’s defense attorney didn’t respond to a request for comment. At his arraignment last month, she cited Desmond’s history of mental health issues, including a six-month stint at an inpatient psychiatric facility in New York.

He was originally charged with third-degree assault, unlawful restraint, breach of peace and interfering with police, but after a hearing this week, new charges were added and others were upgraded to felonies. Now he faces three counts of risk of injury to a child, second-degree assault, third-degree attempted sexual assault and first-degree strangulation, all felonies, as well as a misdemeanor count of interfering with an officer. 

What’s notably missing, Khan said, is a hate crime investigation. 

“You do need to investigate to see: Has this person had a bias towards Muslims?” she said. “The fact that there was none of that was very problematic to me.”

Police told NBC News the investigation continues. 

“HPD and major crimes are investigating and working with the Office of the State’s Attorney, who released updated charges against the suspect yesterday. Ultimately, charges are at the discretion of the State’s Attorney’s Office,” Police Chief Jason Thody said in a statement to NBC News. 

Speaking to The Associated Press, Thody expressed sympathy for Khan and said the police department will review its response to the attack.

Khan said that when initial police statements came out, she was disappointed that some of the most egregious parts of her story seemed to have been left out, including the fact that sexual advances were made on her minor children and that she is a Muslim. 

“I don’t know what the intention was in minimizing it,” she said. “But to me, it just doesn’t seem like it’s by accident … especially given that they failed to provide the protection.” 

Hartford police said that they didn’t minimize the incident and that the details they released to the media were a general summary of the events. Their police report was comprehensive, a spokesperson said, and not all of it has been released to the public. 

Khan remembered screaming for help several times while she was being attacked, but the officers who were stationed outside the XL Center at the beginning of the event had already left for the day, police said. She also said her sister was on the phone with 911 screaming as she was being slammed to the ground. 

But when officers arrived to take her statement, they didn’t go to the scene. She said she had to walk two blocks to give her statement, sign paperwork and identify her attacker in person as he sat in the back of the squad car. 

A police spokesperson said that responding officers had to go to where the suspect was being detained and that in-person identifications, in which victims are taken to see suspects, are standard procedure. 

She said that emergency medical services hadn’t been dispatched and that she had to ask police to send an ambulance for the pain she was experiencing. She was later diagnosed with a concussion, and she lost feeling in her right arm and shoulder, she said. 

“People have called the police that a woman has been assaulted. … We’re hearing this assault happening to a woman, but we’re not sending medical attention,” she said. “I was not treated as a victim, but I was treated as a witness.”

She acknowledged that her public role as a state representative sets her story apart from other crimes against women, and she fears how police might handle it when a victim doesn’t have a platform. 

“When I saw my police report, I was able to have a press conference, and they were able to increase charges,” she said. “Other people can’t do that.”

Since the attack, other women have reached out to her detailing similar police inaction when they have reported violent crimes, she said. She’s calling for a federal investigation into the police department’s handling of violent crimes against women. 

“There is a distrust of a lot of women in Hartford of the Hartford police, because the Hartford police have not provided them with safety,” she said. “This is clearly a really big issue. I mean, much bigger than I even thought it was.”

Thody said the police department will be transparent if there are any inquiries.

“We take the assault against Representative Khan extremely seriously,” he said. “We are committed to transparency, we welcome any inquiries and reviews, and we are prepared to release as much information and footage as the law allows and as Representative Khan requests.”

Khan reflected on the day of the attack, saying her instincts kicked in when it came time to protect herself and her children. She remained calm, trying to talk kindly to her attacker to lead him away from her children and other congregants. Women of color have to exercise that muscle far too often, she said. 

“The way that we move in society, women of color, we are often the protectors of ourselves,” she said. “We always have to come to the defense of our own people, because we’re not provided the protection often.”