Pre-Sentencing Hearing: El-Amin Could Face 15 Years in Dallas BBQ Assault

A surveillance photo of Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin in Dallas BBQ released by the police. | NYPD DCPI

A surveillance photo of Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin in Dallas BBQ released by the police. | NYPD DCPI

The prosecution could ask that Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for his part in a fight in a Chelsea restaurant, while the defense is asking that he be sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.

“He’s looking at five-to-15 if the judge deems him a predicate felon,” said Percy Gayanilo, 42-year-old El-Amin’s attorney, following a June 14 hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court.

El-Amin was eating with friends in Dallas BBQ at 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue on May 5, 2015 when he was attacked by Jonathan Snipes, 33. Snipes and his then boyfriend, Ethan York-Adams, 26, were drunk and had been fighting with each other in the restaurant. Snipes thought that someone had called him a “faggot,” though he could not say who, and he struck El-Amin with his purse, which held his keys, a sunglasses case, a cellphone charger, and his résumé.

El-Amin and Snipes fought as the older and far larger El-Amin pushed Snipes to the floor. They were separated and then fought again. El-Amin then struck York-Adams with a chair as the two younger men stood with their backs to him. That final moment in the fight always presented El-Amin with the greatest risk of a guilty verdict. Snipes and York-Adams refused medical attention the night of the assault, saying they lacked insurance to pay for an emergency room visit.

A screen grab from video that circulated immediately after the Dallas BBQ incident last May showing Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin bringing a chair down over Ethan York-Adams’ head. | ISAAM SHAREF VIA YOUTUBE.COM

A screen grab from video that circulated immediately after the Dallas BBQ incident last May showing Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin bringing a chair down over Ethan York-Adams’ head. | ISAAM SHAREF VIA YOUTUBE.COM

Facing five felony charges for assault and attempted assault, a jury convicted El-Amin on four of the five on May 25. The June 14 hearing came after the prosecution served notice that El-Amin is a predicate felon, citing a 2008 felony conviction in Michigan. The defense filed a motion opposing the designation, saying the Michigan statute is overly broad. The prosecution will respond by June 28.

If Arlene Goldberg, the judge in the case, agrees with the prosecution, El-Amin faces a minimum of five years in prison and up to 15 years, with five years of post-release supervision. If she decides he is not a predicate felon, the minimum is three-and-a-half years, with two-and-a-half years of post-release supervision.

Twenty-four friends, family members, and allies packed Goldberg’s small courtroom on June 14 to show support for El-Amin. There was outrage over the fight immediately following the incident because Snipes told some media that he had been attacked in an anti-gay hate crime. None of the charges against El-Amin was filed as a hate crime. Since then, there has been far more sympathy for El-Amin, with some seeing race as playing a role in the prosecution. El-Amin is African-American and Snipes and York-Adams are white.

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Gay City News June 9 cover design by Michael Shirey.

Dr. H. Sharif “Herukhuti” Williams, a professor of interdisciplinary studies Goddard College, compared the El-Amin case to the one brought against Brock Turner, a white Stanford student, who was convicted this year of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and sentenced to just six months in jail.

“Mr. El-Amin is facing a decade or more in prison,” Williams told Gay City News. “The young man who raped the woman in California is getting six months… We exist in a society in which jail is too harsh for certain people, but not others. If jail is too harsh for certain people, it’s too harsh for all people.”

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