DA wore down Tanveer Hussain

Part 2 of 2

Tanveer Hussain (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

Quotes in the newspapers mention the extensive investigation by local police, with the aid of state police, into the case of Tanveer Hussain. The Essex County district attorney’s office claimed their delay in moving ahead was waiting for additional evidence. Per the DA’s legally required disclosure, the fruits of this investigation were the statements made at the time of arrest and Facebook messages, all of which were available back in March.

A former chief judge of New York said district attorneys now have so much influence on grand juries that, “by and large,” they could get them to “indict a ham sandwich.” Five months after his arrest, Tanveer was indicted. The defense was not present at the grand jury and had no opportunity to refute anything presented. Coincidentally, the grand jury presentation was two weeks after the DA learned she would be unopposed for re-election and just before Tanveer’s visa expired. In all this time, no one from law enforcement ever checked to see if Tanveer was still here. The DA’s claim of flight risk was so bogus, even they did not believe it.

We filed for a visa extension, explaining the circumstances, but it was denied. We hired an immigration attorney to appeal the denial, and it, too, was denied. We filed a response to the denial within the requisite 33 days. Tanveer was still here legally, from the filings, but living under threat of deportation without getting his case resolved.

A conference between Tanveer’s new attorney, the assistant DA and the judge was scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving. The judge excused Tanveer from attending as we were traveling and could not transport him to Elizabethtown. The DA, not knowing this, alerted Immigration and Customs Enforcement that an Indian national with an expired visa would be at the courthouse. ICE showed up, but Tanveer fortunately was not there.

After nine months of being stuck in a country where he could now just barely speak the language (thanks to eight months of English lessons) and no end in sight, with a sick mother at home refusing surgery until his return, Tanveer was finally worn down enough to accept a plea deal similar to the one offered nine months prior. Sprague’s war of attrition had worked. Tanveer agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, endangering the welfare of a child. Sprague asked for no jail time other than the two days he had spent in county jail nine months prior, and no fine. Tanveer pleaded guilty but never admitted that he had done it.

What we know, and never got to prove in court, is that Tanveer did not write the Facebook messages that were deemed “inappropriate.” He did not speak English. Mostly, Tanveer would text the girl’s message to his friend in India, who would text back a response that Tanveer would cut and paste into the original message stream. Was Tanveer naive in posting messages that he did not understand? Yes. Did he knowingly post something that could be potentially harmful? No. The law states that to be guilty the person must “knowingly act,” which he did not.

The fluent interpreter has called this friend in Kashmir, who admitted writing these messages and gave proof of this.

The court appearance for the plea deal was set for Wednesday, Dec. 6. We arranged for Tanveer to travel to New York City on Thursday, stay with a Kashmiri family, then depart from JFK airport to India that Sunday, Dec. 10. Tanveer was arrested by ICE (DA notification?) immediately after the proceedings that should have ended his nightmare. He was taken to Clinton County Jail to be held until transfer to the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility (ICE). Sprague’s inflammatory press release, issued shortly after the proceedings, provoked Clinton County Jail inmates to attempt to attack Tanveer, who then had to be rescued by guards, per a letter written by Tanveer. On Friday, Dec. 8, Tanveer was transferred to the federal facility to appear before an immigration judge within three months, and then be deported.

Tanveer was prepared to leave the U.S. on Dec. 10, with his ticket paid by private citizens. But now, at taxpayer expense, he has been moved from jail to jail, fed and housed, and when Immigration finally decides it is done, it will fly him home at taxpayer expense. As of this writing, his immigration attorney has not even been able to get the case on the court docket. That timing is up to Immigration and may take three months.

The U.S. immigration system is so determined to get Tanveer out of the country that it won’t let him leave!

Locked up for months without getting to appear before a judge? Where is our due process? This is illogical and surreal. And truly sad.

We have a DA who did not have enough evidence to go to trial, used time to wear down the innocent defendant and then used the immigration system to lock him up. Our justice system is running amok!

However, our citizenry has done us proud. Over these past nine months, the Tanveer Support Group went snowshoeing with him, professionally tutored him in English (approximately 50 lessons, one-and-a-half hours each), took him running, biking, paddling, hiking, etc. He played soccer Friday nights with a group of parents and kids. Over 40 generous folks of Saranac Lake donated funds for Tanveer’s legal defense, immigration appeals, food, clothing, shelter, plane ticket, etc.

The image of America to Tanveer and to his fellow Kashmiris is one of contrast. The governmental legal bureaucracy is slow, unjust and prejudiced. The people of America are kind, generous and caring. Fortunately, it will be the memories and actions of the common people that will define this episode for Tanveer and all his friends back in India.

Richard Shapiro lives in Saranac Lake. Part 1 of this commentary was published Monday.