Jan. 22, 2019 By Meghan Sackman
An Elmhurst couple is demanding that hate crime charges be brought against a Jackson Heights store manager following a dispute late last year that saw the use of anti-gay slurs.
Jeremy Valarezo and husband Joseph Sokolowski claim they were victims of a hate crime at the hands of Village Moon Piercing and Tattoos in a November incident that has since gained the attention of local leaders and prompted a rally earlier today.
The couple said they stepped into the 78-01 Roosevelt Ave. shop at around 1 a.m. on Nov. 3 to buy a tobacco pipe, and were asked by Mohammed Hoque, the store’s manager, for an ID to photocopy with the credit card purchase.
Valarezo, 36, said at the rally that the request to photocopy his driver’s license “raised red flags,” and that he refused to have his ID photocopied.
Hoque had reaffirmed that an ID photocopy was required for credit card purchases at his store, but the couple continued to refuse and instead asked for the purchase to be refunded.
The store eventually issued a refund, but not before an argument escalated between the manager and the couple which ended in two arrests.
The dispute was partially captured on video by Sokolowski, where Hoque can be heard saying, “get your bull—-, f—-t a—s, out of here” among several other profanities exchanged between the two.
Hoque, according to Valarezo, then allegedly punched him in the face before following Sokolowski outside to attack him, too.
“I could not believe what was happening,” Valarezo said at the rally, where images of his bruised lip and chin were shown.
Hoque, however, told the Queens Post after the rally that he punched the two after Sokolowski allegedly spit in his face, tore down a mannequin, and began disputing with his uncle, the store owner.
Both Sokolowski and Hoque were arrested at the time, according to police, with Hoque charged with two counts of assault while Sokolowski, who was originally charged with a felony “based on the value of the mannequin”, had a reduced sentence of Class A misdemeanor.
Hoque was also given a desk appearance ticket.
The couple, along with Council Member Daniel Dromm and several local leaders, say Hoque should be pressed with hate crime charges after the November incident, especially since police were made aware of the video at the time.
“We are disappointed that the NYPD did not prosecute this as a hate crime even though they were shown the video that clearly indicates the manager of Village Moon outright calling Jeremy and Joseph f—ts,” Dromm said at the rally just outside the shop this morning. “This is not acceptable in our community.”
He added: “The use of the F-word will no longer be tolerated or no longer be let go without some type of a community response,” he said. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Ali Najmi, the couple’s lawyer, also denounced the NYPD’s response to the incident.
“Frankly I find it disgusting that a mannequin, a dummy is being valued more than my clients,” he said.
The NYPD, however, claimed that “no information was provided at the time to indicate this was a hate crime,” but that Hate Crimes Task Force is aware of the video and is looking into it.
Hoque, who told the Queens Post that the credit card identification policy dates back seven years ago after a customer committed fraud, said he regretted using the anti-gay slur against the couple.
“I do apologize for using the word. That’s not what I meant by it at all,” he said. “It came from no hate. I assaulted the guy because he broke stuff in my store and threatened my uncle. I didn’t even know he was gay.”
The couple, joined by leaders including Borough President Melinda Katz, a representative for Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and LGBTQ organizations, said they are looking to the NYPD to “right this wrong.”
“Violence, ignorance, and hate is something that we cannot allow here or anywhere,” Valarezo said.