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Elmhurst Couple Push for Hate Crime Charges Against Store Manager Who Used Anti-Gay Slur in Dispute

Jeremy Valarezo and Joseph Sokolowski at a press conference earlier today demanding that hate crime charges be brought against a Jackson Heights store manager. (Photo: Meghan Sackman)

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.

Village Moon at 78-01 Roosevelt Ave. (Photo: Meghan Sackman)

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9 Comments

Monique

Someone calls a customer that word, punches them and y’all think this shouldn’t be investigated as a hate crime? Wow. If you want to see what’s wrong with America, look at the comments above.

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JHeights my whole life

Hey Monique how was the owner even supposed to know that these to inebriated men who came into his store late one night to buy a drug pipe for most likely for smoking crack, basuko, weed, or hashish were gay. Like how was the proprieters of this long standing business in the community how were they supposed to know that these to men were gay? He said that word out of anger after seeing these men who agreed to thecstire policy and then changed their mind start yelling and throwing things and damaging hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise and property. That’s what the manager and employee of this store saw two men not to gay men just two guys busting up the place. Yes an offensive word may have been used but it was said by 2 psople defending their place of business from violent disrespectful vandals. So how were they supposed to know the two men shopping were gay. Or maybe to you Monica you know how to “spot the gays” because maybe to you they all talk and walk a certain way. Maybe you are the homphobe. Gay men come in all shapes,sizes, and colors,religions they look exactly like any other Male shopper that comes in to a store. And there really is no way of knowing if nen are gay or not just by looking at them. And one more thing Monica if you read the comments on the page you would know that one was written by a gay man who the workers of this store know are gay and he has always been treated well by the staff. Another comment that you claim demonstrates what’s wrong with America was posted by a person who has gone to that store many times with their gay friends and never had a problem. Proving that the only reason these two people one of which was arrested after being given a refund by the cashier wa sbecause the police determined he was a destructive criminal. The police also determined there was no evidence of any hate crime it was merely a dispute between store workers and customers. So when a Gay man and a person who shops there with Gay friends regularly and the NYPD Hate crime task force say it wasn’t a hate crime. Then it was not a hate crime simple as that.

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L

Yes, everyone that doesn’t immediately scream ‘hatecrime!’ for any incident is hurting the USA and NYC.

Next mayoral candidate – you!!

Ponder this example (not inclusive of all societal ills, clearly): If this is a hatecrime, every woman called ‘bitch’ and struck needs to be classified a hatecrime victim. Where are the protections for women – a constantly marginalized group – that is disproportionately affected by domestic violence, and undervalued economically (meaning wages, jobs, domestic life, etc.)?

I stuanchly support the rights of the LGBTQQ community here and elsewhere, and the rights of women and marginizalized communities, but statements like yours, Monique, hurt our cause of legitimacy.

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JHeights my whole life

This was no hate crime and I love how these politicians never miss a photo op to show their so called outrage . This was two dudes who got into an argument with a store worker and then started busting up the place. But hey Dromm and Viverito make sure to het your picture in the paper over this b.s. So you can show the world how heroic and concerned you are about a word being used. They are way more pressing matters that the politicians should be focused on.

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J

This is complete b.s.. I’ve been to this place on many occasions to purchase a variety of products and got tattoos done here on many occasions. The owner and his family has never ever once been disrespectful EVER, they’re never rude and always treating EVERYONE with respect. This really looks like a set up from the start

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Henry

As a gay man who has shopped in the store many time over the course of years and have had direct interactions with Mo, there must be more to this story. Mo knows that I’m gay and has always treated me with respect.

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Kat

I completely agree. Several of my gay friends have been to the store and never felt uncomfortable. We need to protect small businesses! What would you do if someone threatened your uncle and destroyed what you worked so hard to build!

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L

Worry about fixing the subways, politicos! The lead paint; the crippled infrastructure.

Worry about the lack of movement of traffic on Roosevelt (which is dug up with no workers in sight EVER), the double and occasional triple parking on 37th Ave.

Worry about the violently drunks stumbling about at all hours of the day, with no police foot patrols EVER.

This is a gay and LGBTQQ community, and I fully support (else I’d move away). But hatecrime? I don’t like the use of the F word anymore than I like the use of the N word. But hate time? That’s a tough sell.

Sidenote – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to buy a ‘tobacco pipe’ at 1am on a Sunday off of Roosevelt Ave. Something tells me cooler heads and sobriety weren’t prevailing there.

Let’s try to fix stuff that matters, shall we? In the past month, pedestrians have been killed by motorists on our block. The 7 train does not run. The roads are restricted by gaping holes with construction equipment around and no actual activity. The 74th Street station is a violent cesspool that reeks of human excrement.

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great point

Yeah…who cares about hate crimes in Trump’s America? They’re everywhere now, why bother fighting it?

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