New York Muslim Cleric Hate

City to Review Hiring of Chaplains After an Attempt to Carry Blades Into Jail

The New York Times
Published: February 4, 2010

It was not clear what was more surprising initially to city officials: that one of the Department of Correction’s chaplains was accused of taking scissors and metal blades into a jail, or that the same chaplain had been convicted of murder.

Both disclosures about the chaplain, Imam Zulqarnain Abdu-Shahid, have led the Correction Department to conduct a review of the circumstances of his hiring.

While the review has not been completed, correction officials said Thursday that the department was aware of the chaplain’s second-degree murder conviction before he was hired, two years ago.

Stephen J. Morello, a department spokesman, said background checks were required for all job applicants, including chaplains. Applicants also must submit to interviews and a fingerprint check. Candidates are required to “self-disclose” any criminal record, he said.

But a conviction, even for murder, does not necessarily disqualify a candidate from a civilian job like a chaplain’s — though it does disqualify applicants who want to be correction officers.

The only “civil service required qualification” for hiring a chaplain, Mr. Morello said, is to obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from the candidate’s denomination, which in the case of Muslims would come from the Majlis Ash-Shura of New York, in Wyandanch.

Records show that Imam Abdu-Shahid was found guilty, along with three other men, of murdering a customer during a robbery of a supermarket in Harlem in December 1976. He served nearly 14 years in state prison, and was paroled from Sing Sing in 1993, officials said.

On Wednesday, Imam Abdu-Shahid was charged with various counts of promoting prison contraband after he was intercepted with a pair of scissors and three metal blades in his bag as he tried to enter a jail in Lower Manhattan, according to the city’s Department of Investigation.

He was held on $50,000 bond after his arraignment. His lawyer, James M. McQueeney, said the chaplain had reformed his life since his murder arrest.

Asked if it was a benefit for the department to employ seasoned chaplains who might better relate to prisoners because of their range of life experiences, Mr. Morello referred to the civil service guidelines.

“It’s not part of the job requirement,” he said.

Mr. Morello said there were about 50 clergy members on the department’s staff of chaplains, representing different denominations. Some are full-time, salaried employees; others work part time. He could not say how many had criminal records.

Imam Abdu-Shahid was not the first chaplain in the Correction Department to have his criminal past cited amid disciplinary problems.

Imam Umar Abdul-Jalil was suspended in 2006 because of remarks he made about the White House being occupied by terrorists. Last year, he was among those disciplined in connection with a bar mitzvah party arranged in a city jail by a part-time chaplain, Rabbi Leib Glanz, for the son of a prisoner, officials said.

Rabbi Glanz resigned last June, officials said.

Correction officials knew Imam Abdul-Jalil had a criminal history when they hired him in 1993, eventually promoting him to chief chaplain. Mr. Morello, however, said he was unsure of the specifics of his criminal background.

“I know he had a criminal record,” Mr. Morello said. As for the details, he added, “I cannot say for sure.”

As for Imam Abdu-Shahid, Mr. Morello said, “His background was investigated when he was hired” and the necessary ecclesiastical endorsement was obtained.

Dora B. Schriro, the new commissioner of the Department of Correction, has suspended Imam Abdu-Shahid without pay, threatened further punishment and called for a departmental review of the vetting process that allowed him to be hired in 2007.

“I think all of the policies, involving allowing certain imams access to our prisoners, have been an example of political correctness run amok,” said Peter F. Vallone Jr., the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. “Clearly, some of these people should never have been allowed access to prisoners.”

Law enforcement and public safety agencies generally bar those with criminal convictions from serving; Mr. Morello said that a felony conviction would prevent an applicant for a correction officer’s position from being hired.

In the New York Police Department, there is a firm rule against hiring anyone — potential police officers or civilians — with a felony conviction, said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman. While those with misdemeanor convictions might, in theory, be eligible for a job, it is, “highly unlikely” in practice, said Mr. Browne. If a misdemeanor conviction indicates a record of dishonesty, or domestic violence, it is an automatic bar, he said.

The same is true in the Fire Department, where felony convictions bar candidacy, said Francis X. Gribbon, the chief department spokesman. As for misdemeanors, “You can get on with a misdemeanor, on a case by case basis,” he said. “Some misdemeanors are really bad.”

Firefighting and law enforcement require skills far different from those needed by someone in the clergy, who minister to spiritual needs. A spokesman for the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association declined to comment on the issue, saying that hiring was an administrative task, while pointing out that the discovery of blades being taken into a jail exposed the dangers officers face each day.


Chaplain Is Found With Blades at City Jail

The New York Times
Published: February 3, 2010

A Muslim chaplain for the city’s Department of Correction showed up for work on Wednesday as he routinely does — entering the city jail in Lower Manhattan to minister to some of the roughly 900 male inmates there.

But when the chaplain, Imam Zulqarnain Abu-Shahid, flung his shoulder bag onto an X-ray machine at the entrance of the Manhattan Detention Complex, at 125 White Street, officers were alerted to the presence of metal. They found a pair of scissors and three metal blades, the kind used in box cutters, in the bag’s outer flap, the authorities said.

Imam Abu-Shahid was arrested and charged with various counts of promoting prison contraband.

Later, officials made another discovery: The chaplain was an ex-convict who had been found guilty with three other men of the murder of a customer during a robbery of a supermarket in Harlem in 1976.

The chaplain’s name at the time was Paul Pitts, officials said.

He served nearly 14 years in state prison before being released on parole in 1993, said Erik Kriss, a spokesman for the State Department of Correctional Services. His conviction in 1979 occurred after what, at the time, was described as the longest criminal trial in the history of the State Supreme Court system.

Some of the chaplain’s background came out at his arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday evening.

Alexandra Lane, an assistant district attorney, did not explain any potential motive for why Imam Abu-Shahid, 58, took the blades and scissors into the jail.

James M. McQueeney, the chaplain’s lawyer, said that his client did not know the blades were in the bag when he entered the jail. He said that was what Imam Abu-Shahid told officers at the X-ray machine.

The officers allowed Imam Abu-Shahid to go to his work station on a lower floor, but detained him later, when he came back upstairs, Mr. McQueeney said.

As for the chaplain’s past, Mr. McQueeney said, “He has completely reformed his life” and lives with his wife and two children on Staten Island.

Officials with the city’s Department of Correction said that the chaplain, who joined the department in February 2007 and earns $49,471 a year, was immediately suspended without pay.

“Additional steps, up to and including dismissal, will be pursued consistent with the findings of the Department of Investigation,” Dora Schriro, the commissioner of the Correction Department, said in a statement.

Stephen J. Morello, a Correction Department spokesman, later added that in light of the chaplain’s criminal background, Ms. Schriro “has directed a full review of the circumstances of his hiring.” He said that Imam Abu-Shahid had been regularly assigned to the Manhattan Detention Complex, also known as the Tombs.

Officials said that Imam Abu-Shahid was in a group of men who were trapped by the police in the Finast Supermarket at 529 Lenox Avenue on Dec. 9, 1976, after a customer, Philip Crawford, 30, had been shot and killed during the robbery. 


NYPD searches home of Muslim cleric

Investigators spend the day at Glenmont house


New York City Police Officers along with Bethlehem Police spent several hours on Friday, taking box loads of items from inside a home at 520 Feura bush road in Glenmont.

That home is where News Channel 13 found Warith Deen Umar back in 2003.

The former Islamic Prison Chaplin was banned from entering any New York State prisons after he allegedly told a Wall Street Journal reporter that terrorists responsible for the September 11th attacks should be honored as martyrs. 

Umar has denied that charge.

After News Channel 13 learned of the search warrant being carried out at the Glenmont home, questions arose as to why New York City Police Officers became involved.

NYPD officials say it was because Umar was arrested for an alleged dispute with a tenant at a property he owns in the Bronx.

Police say Umar is charged with menacing and criminal possession of a weapon.

NYPD Detective Brian Sessa said it was what police considered more than just a dispute, and there were guns found inside Umar's New York City apartment.

“I don't know this for a fact. I mean there could be more reasons. I’m not at liberty to say why. But this gentleman also has a criminal history that includes a 1974 conviction for conspiracy to commit murder along with two counts of possession of a deadly weapon back in 1974,” Detective Sessa said.


Cleric Faces Charges


Published: January 7, 2006

A Muslim cleric was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the Bronx last week, and his home upstate in Glenmont was searched yesterday morning by police and F.B.I. agents, the police said.

The cleric, Warith Deen Umar, 61, a former coordinator for the state's Islamic prison program, was banned from prisons after he was quoted in 2003 in The Wall Street Journal saying the Sept. 11 hijackers should be considered martyrs.

He was arrested on Dec. 30 after a tenant of a building he owns in the Bronx accused Mr. Umar of threatening him with a gun. The police found two guns, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle, in Mr. Umar's residence in the Bronx building, 756 Union Avenue.