A New York court sentenced Mohammed Othman, who brutally attacked Joseph Borgen on May 20, 2021, to five-and-a-half years in prison on Wednesday.
Othman assaulted and pepper-sprayed Borgen on Broadway near West 49th Street in the Diamond District while the latter was en route to a pro-Israel rally during the Israel-Gaza war (“Operation Pillar of Defense”). Othman pleaded guilty in October to second-degree assault as a hate crime.
Manhattan state Supreme Court Judge Felicia Mennin added five years of post-release supervision to Othman’s sentence. Prosecutors had asked for five years of incarceration for Othman, who was the second defendant in the case whom Mennin sentenced beyond what prosecutors sought.
“I think it sends a strong message about what happened,” Borgen told JNS of his attacker’s punishment. “Considering what we see going on in the city these days in terms of other incidents and other crimes, I’m more than satisfied with the result we got.”
Borgen was wearing a yarmulke when Othman and four other men ambushed him, shouting antisemitic slurs. Punched and kicked repeatedly and beaten with a crutch, Borgen suffered a concussion, wrist injury and black eye. His body was left bruised. He said he will require another wrist surgery and still deals with the incident’s lingering physical effects.
Video evidence showed Othman pepper-spraying Borgen three times and spraying a bystander who tried to protect Borgen. Othman was also recorded throwing a firework at a Jewish woman, burning her, from the back of a pickup truck.
Othman, 26, of Staten Island, had six prior arrests, including domestic violence charges.
Borgen believes the sentence was based on the premeditated nature of the attack and Othman’s repeated assaults.
“The judge went into great detail about the WhatsApp group that he was in, where they were sending messages leading up to the rally,” Borgen said.
“She mentioned the fact that Othman was the one who shot the firework from that pickup truck, and she went into detail about how he kept coming back to pepper spray me, even though he had three opportunities to retreat and stop attacking,” he added.
Three other attackers have been sentenced. Waseem Awawdeh, who beat Borgen with a crutch and reportedly said of the attack, “If I could do it again, I would,” pleaded guilty to attempted assault as a hate crime and received 18 months in jail.
In November, Mahmoud Musa received seven years in prison for his role in the attack, when he maced, kicked, punched and beat Borgen with crutches. The sentence was six months beyond the prosecutor’s recommendation.
Criminal proceedings are ongoing against a 14-year-old, whose name is being withheld due to his status as a minor.
Controversial plea deals
After an initial uproar against Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, for offering light sentences in plea deals, protests and the attention they brought appeared to pressure Bragg to reverse course.
The sentences in the Borgen case are rare instances of significant prison time for antisemitic attacks in New York.
A 2022 study by Americans Against Antisemitism revealed that among all anti-Jewish bias crimes in New York City since 2018, there was only one case in which a suspect was convicted of a hate crime and sentenced to a significant prison term.
Fifteen took plea deals that didn’t appear to involve jail time; hate crime or criminal charges were dropped for 23; 22 were pending; and “and 23 remain unknown, having totally disappeared from criminal court records,” per the group, founded by Dov Hikind, a former N.Y. State Assembly member.
Borgen was complimentary of the way prosecutors handled the case and told JNS that he had “a direct line” to the assistant district attorney throughout the process.
“We could call one another to share information, and there was always an open line of dialogue,” he said. “While initially it wasn’t smooth sailing, I have to commend the efforts of the district attorney’s office, because at the end of the day, we did get strong results in these cases.”
Borgen doesn’t like seeing anyone—including his attackers—go to prison, but he said it is necessary for people’s protection.
“The alternative is that I don’t pursue justice. I don’t seek accountability. And it potentially motivates other individuals in the future to engage in the same behavior,” he said. “I was never motivated by revenge or vengefulness.”