Trustee: Bailing out Tanveer Hussain was ‘the right thing to do’

Rich Shapiro (Photo provided)

SARANAC LAKE — Village Trustee Rich Shapiro says he and his wife Lindy Ellis bailed Tanveer Hussain out of jail because they believe he’s innocent and they felt it was the right thing to do.

For nearly a week, Hussain has been living with Shapiro and Ellis as he awaits the next court proceedings in the case against him. Shapiro says they’ve used Google Translate to communicate with Hussain, who he said has only ventured outside a few times, including to go for a hike with them up Dewey Mountain. He’s also taken a liking to Little Italy pizza, Shapiro said.

The 24-year-old from Kashmir, India, was arrested March 1, four days after he competed in the World Snowshoe Championships at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center. He was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and first-degree sexual abuse, a felony. Village police say he kissed and groped a 12-year-old Saranac Lake girl on Feb. 27 at a location on Park Avenue in the St. Armand section of the village.

Two days after Hussain’s arrest, Shapiro and Ellis showed up at the Essex County Jail in Lewis and paid his $5,000 bail.

“We just felt it was the right thing to do,” Shapiro said. “If it had been a local person incarcerated with $5,000 bail, chances are his family would have bailed him out. With Tanveer as a foreigner in the country, and him not speaking any English or having any resources, we deemed it to be cruel punishment keeping him in jail because he’s innocent until proven guilty.”

Shapiro said he and Ellis also felt some kind of responsibility for Hussain, as they were part of the volunteer committee that invited him here to compete in the World Snowshoe Championships. Ellis was the registration chair for the event.

“We just felt sorry for the guy,” Shapiro said. “It’s like the nightmare you’ve seen in TV movies, where you’re an American tourist in Chile, and you got picked up for something and thrown in jail, and you can’t communicate with people, and you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t understand the system. For him it would be a nightmare. It is a nightmare.”

When they arrived at the jail that Friday, Shapiro said it took more than an hour-and-a-half to get Hussain out. He said he and Ellis wore their matching royal blue World Snowshoe Championship jackets “so he would have some semblance of understanding we were coming to help him.

“He got in the car, and he started crying a little bit,” Shapiro said. “He was saying, ‘It’s ended. I can fly home tomorrow.’ That’s when we stopped and called a translator to explain to him that no, this isn’t over.”

That was confirmed minutes later when the trio arrived in Saranac Lake. Village police were waiting at the end of Shapiro and Ellis’ driveway. They re-arrested Hussain on a bail review warrant issued by St. Armand Justice Sheridan Swinyer and brought him to court, where the judge took Hussain’s passport and visa. He ordered Hussain not to leave Essex or Franklin counties.

The first thing Hussain did when he arrived at Shapiro and Ellis’ house was to call his mother in Kashmir.

“He said that she hadn’t been sleeping for two days,” Shapiro said. “She heard the news and had no idea what was happening other than her son had been arrested in a foreign country.”

Shapiro said Hussain is the sole breadwinner for his mother and two younger siblings. His father died several years ago.

Zouhoor Wani, a lawyer from Jamaica, Queens, has been helping Hussain. He served as the translator for him during a court appearance Tuesday.

“I talked with his family,” Wani said. “They contacted me. They’re under a lot of stress because he’s overseas and very far from the family. They want him to come home.”

Shapiro said Hussain has been online and seen the attention the story is getting, both here and in India.

“He knows his face and his name is in the news around the world, and that’s why he wants to prove his innocence, to not be dishonored and not bring to shame to his family,” Shapiro said.

Asked if he has the same amount of sympathy for the alleged victim as he does for Hussain, Shapiro said, “I think the community needs to support the girl, also.

“I have no issue with the fact that legal action was taken, based on the accusations,” he said. “But the more and more we look into this and talk to Tanveer through translators and read messages that have gone around, he’s more and more innocent looking, and she’s more and more manipulative looking.”

Shapiro said he’s seen the Facebook messages between the girl and Hussain. He wasn’t willing to provide them to the Enterprise because the case is still pending, but he claims Hussain didn’t write many of them.

“He texted them to a friend in India, who then texted back to him what the response should be. It’s not even his words in there. He doesn’t understand that much. Some of them were innocuous communications. Some of them were strange communications I assume due to the language barrier. He does not acknowledge (touching the girl inappropriately) in any of them. Even the ones after the alleged incident, there’s no acknowledgment there.”

Village police Chief Charles Potthast Jr. said police used search warrants to obtain the contents of Hussain’s phone, including the messages he reportedly exchanged with the girl, but the chief wouldn’t comment on the content of the messages Wednesday. He said the police investigation is “basically done” at this point and the case is now in the hands of the Essex County district attorney’s office.

Since it was revealed last week that a village trustee had bailed out Hussain, some people have sharply criticized Shapiro on social media. Some have said he should resign. Shapiro said he knew he would take some heat but said he didn’t get involved as an elected official.

The village’s top elected official, Mayor Clyde Rabideau, led the effort to get Hussain and his companion Abid Khan here after their visa applications were initially denied. He also led a fundr campaign to help cover some of the men’s travel expenses. The mayor “is fully supporting what we’re doing,” Shapiro said.

Rabideau has also taken plenty of heat online. It’s been so intense that Rabideau has removed all the posts about Hussain and Khan from his Facebook page.

“I think he took some of it down because he was out of town and couldn’t monitor it as well and there were too many troll-type comments on there,” Shapiro said. “Just mean, nasty comments that shouldn’t be up there. Civil discourse is fine, but when you get some of the vitriolic stuff out there, it’s just not acceptable.”

Hussain rejected a plea deal that would have allowed him to leave the country if he pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child. His attorney, Brian Barrett of Lake Placid, says Hussain wants to stay and fight the charges.

“He has done nothing wrong, and he would like to be able to demonstrate that,” Ellis said.

“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” Shapiro said. “Let’s get the facts. When the facts come out, I think it’s going to show that he did not do what’s been alleged against him.”