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July 7, 2023

Rep. Maryam Khan faults Hartford police for response to assault

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR Rep. Maryam Khan details last week's attack following prayer services for Eid al-Adha at a press conference on Thursday, July 6.

The state lawmaker attacked after a Muslim prayer service in downtown Hartford last week described the incident Thursday as an attempted sexual assault and complained that police did not treat her or the attack seriously.

In an emotional press conference, Rep. Maryam Khan, D-Windsor, spoke publicly for the first time about the midday attack, questioning the adequacy of the police presence outside the XL Center for a major Muslim observance.

Khan, whose district includes a portion of north Hartford, said she was asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the incident and how Hartford police investigate crimes against women.

“All I kept thinking about these last few days is what happens to women in the city of Hartford that call the police when they are assaulted, when they experienced what I experienced, when they experienced sexual assault, when they experienced physical assault,” Khan said. “What happens? Because if this is what’s happening to me and this is the best we can do, as a state representative that represents the city of Hartford, I cannot be OK with that. I’m not OK with that.”

Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody and Mayor Luke Bronin responded with restraint, defending the response without contradicting Khan on specifics. Both noted that most of her police interactions were recorded by body cameras, and the footage will be made public at her request.

“Nobody should have to go through what Representative Khan and her family have gone through, and I’m deeply sorry for what happened to her. Today is her day to tell her story as she experienced it, and I just want to respect that,” Bronin said. “We take transparency very seriously, we welcome any inquiries and reviews, and we will release as much information and footage as we can and as Representative Khan requests.”

Khan, who did not address the release of video at her press conference, could not immediately be reached after the statements from Thody and Bronin.

Khan disputed the initial police account of the incident, which she says downplayed its severity. She described an assailant grabbing her face to kiss her, then slapping and violently body-slamming her when she resisted.

“He slammed my body into the ground, threw me,” said Khan, a former teacher who is no more than 5 feet tall. “I felt nothing, but I shot up and I ran for my life.”

Khan said police made no calls for medical attention until she requested an ambulance, then she was told by the medical responders to seek treatment if she felt it necessary. No transportation to a hospital was offered, she said.

“I remember feeling that I had to convince them that I was injured. ‘My neck hurts, my neck is stiff. And I feel it, something is wrong. Can someone please check me?’” Khan recalled. “After I described what happened to me, that I was slammed onto the floor, they touched my neck, said it’s not a spine injury. It’s probably muscle pain and gave me an ice pack and said I should go to urgent care if I feel more pain.”

She was diagnosed with a concussion when she sought treatment on her own, she said. Khan, who wore a sling immobilizing her right arm, said she has neck pain and numbness in her shoulder and arm. Her primary care physician has ordered an MRI for Friday, she said.

In a statement released at 5 p.m., the police chief detailed the police efforts.

“We take the assault against Representative Khan very seriously, and the investigation was immediately assigned to both our Intelligence Division and to the Major Crimes Division,” Thody said. “Our detectives have supplemented the initial report with additional information and context, all of which is being shared with the state’s attorney.”

It was unclear if Khan had made supplemental statements to detectives since the incident on June 28. Thody’s statement did not address that question, and Khan declined to say if she had done so.

The XL Center hired a police sergeant and two officers to staff the prayer service, which has been held annually without incident. The event ended at 10:15 a.m., and the detail was dismissed at 11 a.m., police said. The assault was reported at 11:05 a.m.

“We will review every aspect of our response and we always want to get better and do better, and we take seriously the importance of responding not just as the law requires, but to ensure that we are working with partners to support victims in every way possible,” Thody said. “We are continuing to investigate this assault thoroughly and we are working closely with the state’s attorney.”

Khan spoke to reporters at noon in a hearing room at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and at least a dozen lawmakers of both parties present to show support. 

“We are friends. I had reached out after this terrible incident,” Bysiewicz said. “And she called me a day ago and said she was going to do this, and she asked me to come, and I said I will absolutely be here.”

Khan paused several times, struggling to maintain composure. At least twice, her left hand visibly shook while she stood before a microphone, accompanied by a friend who witnessed the attack, family and colleagues.

“I wanted to be here to state my story. I am the only one that can say what happened to me and what I experienced,” Khan said. “And that’s not what was made public to people.”

Off to the side, Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, sat with other lawmakers. Horn, a former federal prosecutor, said Khan’s comments resonated, reflecting research indicating women often feel disrespected when reporting assaults.

Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, stood near Khan, directing her attention to the women who had come to show support. Walker is the mentor assigned to Khan, who was elected in a special election last year.

Khan said she appreciated that as a state lawmaker she had the ability and support to speak out that other victims might not have. 

“As I said to my family, and I’ve said to my friends, and I would say it today, that if this person was going to grab a woman and do what he did, I’m glad he grabbed me,” Khan said. “No one else would have done a press conference, no one else would have had a news story. No one else has the access that I have, people that I have.”

As Khan described it, the assault was made more stunning by its timing and circumstances: A day of celebration and the moment when she was lining up her children for the annual photo she takes after the Eid al-Adha prayers marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

The event at the XL Center draws 4,000 people. They exited at about 11 a.m. to take the picture outside. A man approached, crudely demanding sex. He stared at one daughter, then another. Her oldest is 15, the youngest is 10. 

Her group, which included her sister and a close friend, went back inside the XL. The man followed.

“He started to pursue me, grab my face, grabbed my face and said, ‘Give me a kiss.’ I pulled away. I tried de-escalating,” she said.

Khan said she tried to draw him outside, away from her children. He tried to grab her face again, but Khan dodged him.

“And this time, he got angry. And he slapped me across my face,” she said. “My friend had followed us outside, was screaming on top of her lungs, yelling for help. There were people, many that were there, that saw, that did not intervene.”

But then she heard someone tell him to stop. Khan said she saw the man hold his hand out, a move she mimicked with a shaking hand. It was then he threw her to the ground. She rose and ran back inside the XL with her friend and sought help from XL security.

Khan later learned that bystanders pursued and detained her assailant.

Andrey Desmond, 30, of New Britain, was arrested and charged with second-degree unlawful restraint, third-degree assault, second-degree breach of peace and interfering with police. He was being held, unable to post bond.

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