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The suspect in New Mexico Muslim killings was arrested twice on domestic violence charges

In one case, the victim didn't cooperate, and in the other, Muhammad Syed completed a diversion program to avoid prosecution.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The man accused of killing at least two men of South Asian descent, sending shockwaves through this city's Muslim community, was arrested twice in 2018 in troubling domestic violence incidents — including one inside a state office building, court documents show.

In each case, charges against Muhammad Syed, 51, were dropped — once because the alleged victim, his wife, declined to cooperate with prosecutors, and in the other because he completed a court-mandated diversion program, a Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said Wednesday. 

Syed and his wife were headed to the New Mexico Human Services Department on May 2, 2018, when they got into a heated argument about her driving skills, according to a criminal complaint by Albuquerque police.

"While she was driving Muhammad pulled her by the hair and kicked her out of the vehicle and made her walk to the office building," the complaint said.

After she got to Human Services two hours later on foot, Syed "began yelling at her as to why it took her so long to get to the office," and "while in the waiting room Muhammad had grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground," the complaint stated.

The incident was at least partially witnessed by a Human Services employee, Erica Montoya, who heard yelling and saw Syed's wife "on the floor crying and she had a large piece of hair that fell to the ground," according to the court document.

Syed was arrested and booked on suspicion of battery on a household member before that charge was dropped due to his wife's refusal to cooperate, the DA rep said.

It wasn't immediately clear if Montoya had offered to testify or what assistance the couple had been seeking from Human Services, a department spokeswoman told NBC News. That case against Syed was dismissed on Aug. 21, 2018, court records showed.

Then, on Dec. 23, 2018, police were called to Syed's home by his son, who told an officer that his father had "routinely beat him and his mother in the past" and had done it again that day, according to a criminal complaint.

Syed allegedly used a slotted spoon to hit his son in the head, "causing a laceration" as "blood on the back of his head soaked into his hair," the court record showed.

Syed was booked on aggravated battery and entered a diversion program, which included classes on domestic violence and anger management, the DA spokeswoman said. Syed's case was dismissed on April 30, 2019, records showed.

Syed was arrested Monday and charged in the July 26 and Aug. 1 murders of Aftab Hussein, 41, and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, police said.

He's also being investigated for his potential involvement in the slayings of two other men, also Muslims of South Asian descent.

Syed is being represented by a public defender, and an office spokeswoman declined comment Wednesday.

Alicia Victoria Lozano reported from Albuquerque, and David K. Li from New York City.