An Islandia man was charged thursday with threatening to kill a Muslim woman and her 20-year-old daughter and trying to run them down with his car at a Smithtown gas station, a misdemeanor charge that Muslim groups condemned as too light.
Joseph Ballance, 23, pleaded not guilty Thursday at an arraignment in First District Court in Central Islip, where he was charged with second-degree aggravated harassment.
Prosecutors asked for $5,000 bail, but Judge Joseph A. Santorelli ordered Ballance held on $10,000 cash bail or $30,000 bond. He also issued an order of protection for the victims and ordered a mental health screening for Ballance.
The police report says, on Aug. 20 at 3:50 p.m. at the Hess gas station on Smithtown Bypass, Ballance threatened the victim with extreme violence.
The victim, 49, and her daughter, both of Smithtown, were dressed in an abaya, a traditional Muslim garment that completely covered their bodies and face, except for their eyes.
The report said Ballance then started driving toward the mother. Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks, who heads the Suffolk County Police Department's Hate Crimes unit, said the man drove the car in reverse but didn't get close enough to the older woman to be charged with attempted assault.
In the mother's statement, she said a white male came up behind them yelling, "Take that stuff off. What do you think it is, Halloween?" The man followed them into the store, continuing to yell.
The woman said the man then drove his car so close to hers that she couldn't open the gas cap and he "kept striking a match on a matchbook like if I was to start pumping the gas he would throw the match at me," according to the statement.
In a statement signed by Ballance, he said that while he was at the station, "two people dressed for Halloween looking like the wicked witch," pulled in.
"They shouldn't be allowed to wear that around here," the statement said.
"I did nothing to them," he said in the statement. "There is nothing wrong with their car. I never touched them.
"This is not Iraq. They should not be dressing like that here. Send them back to Iraq."
Ballance's attorney could not be reached. Police did not identify the victims. Reecks said the hate component upgraded the charge to a misdemeanor.
But Muslim leaders criticized the charge as too lenient, and pressed for federal civil rights charges.
Nayyar Imam, president of the Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden, said he would request to meet with authorities about the charges. "These charges have to be ramped up," he said. "It's unacceptable."