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Former Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels was acquitted last month of a charge related to alleged threats to shoot the owner of a hookah and shawarma restaurant and his customers. During a bench trial in December, Starrels’ attorney successfully argued that his accuser, Beshar Mehiar, fabricated the allegations.
Starrels was unwilling to talk to LL in August when the charge was fresh, but, having secured a courtroom victory, he called last week asking for a favor.
Starrels began the phone call with an instruction that the conversation is off the record, but LL did not agree to those terms before Starrels jumped into his polite request for an update to the previous coverage of his case.
A Google search, he says, brings up LL’s original article but leaves the case’s resolution hanging in the balance, which is a fair point.
Starrels promised to have his attorney, Joseph Gonzalez, send over a prepared statement, which is similar to what he told WTOP in December.
“Although Mr. Starrels never wavered in his belief that he would achieve a full acquittal, the public nature of these false allegations made them particularly painful,” Gonzalez writes in an email. “He is grateful for the steadfast support of his family, friends, and the Georgetown community.”
Although Starrels was cleared of threatening to harm Mehiar, who owns Charcoal Town Hookah and Shawarma, his customers, and “the Muslims standing outside,” a motion filed by Gonzalez indicates that Starrels made “anti-Arab” comments and may have taken photos of the restaurant. Starrels adamantly denies making racist comments, and says he was only following up on his noise complaint.
“I never uttered a word about anybody’s race, religion, nothing,” he says in a phone interview. “You don’t know me, but that just is not me. That just isn’t who I am. It’s really personally offensive.”
Here’s what went down, according Gonzalez’s legal motion arguing for the judge to consider police body camera footage as evidence during the trial. MPD Officer Kevin Provance had resigned and moved away from the District by the time the trial began and was unavailable to testify, according to Gonzalez. His motion draws from Provance’s body camera footage.
In May, Starrels called the police to complain about noise coming from Mehiar’s restaurant, which is just down the block from Starrels’ home. He then got dressed and walked to the restaurant to wait for the cops.
Starrels told Provance about his beef with the commotion. “Anything you can do would be appreciated,” Starrels said.
Provance then went to speak with Mehiar and his employee, who translated for him. Mehiar told the officer that Starrels is “always complaining,” and “one time he came to the wall for us and just started like taking picture inside.”
“Now today he came inside and just start taking pictures for the restaurant,” Mehiar said.
Provance told Mehiar that Starrels “is going to keep calling regardless because the people in this area just act like that. I mean, they bought a place and they think its [sic] going to be quiet.”
Provance told Mehiar that without a threat of violence, “there is no report for me to take.”
Mehiar and his employee then said “he threaten him.”
“What did he say?” Provance asked.
“Like you are Arab, You all crazy. Why you all here? Why you in USA?” Mehiar’s employee said.
Later, Mehiar told Provance that he wanted Starrels arrested because “he talking racist.”
Provance said “I get that … but there is nothing for me to take a report about unless he is making some kind of threat like I’m going to injure you, I’m going to hurt you, I’m going to kill you, something like that.”
Mehiar again repeated that Starrels “said you are Arab. Why you Arab. Why you here. Fuck Arab. Why are you want to wait? When he come here? He’s crazy. He’s every time he come here,” according to Gonzalez’s motion.
Later, only after Provance recited the elements of the crime, did Mehiar say Starrels threatened to kill him, Gonzalez writes in his motion.
Gonzalez describes in the document that Provance then spoke with Mehiar’s brother, who did not mention a threat. The officer later told the brother that he was “trying to figure out at this point … if an actual crime was committed. Because at first he told me that [Mr. Starrels] was just sorta saying things and making anti-Arab statements, but then he said ‘oh well he threatened to kill me.’”
Gonzalez points out that law enforcement did not charge Starrels with a crime until two and a half months after the incident. A different officer filed the arrest affidavit, which did not include the entirety of Provance’s investigation, including his initial belief that no crime was committed, Gonzalez argues.
“It just cut deep,” Starrels says of Mehiar’s accusations. “I’ve lived my life, I think, as a progressive over the years, and … I just have to pursue my heart, and to hear somebody say something like that, it just hurts. It’s simply not true.”
Efforts to contact Mehiar were unsuccessful.