A Long Island landscaper with a virulent hatred of Islam tried to run over two Muslim women at a suburban gas station after threatening to kill them because of their religion, police said Thursday.
Joseph Ballance, 23, pleaded not guilty Thursday to aggravated harassment in the Aug. 20 confrontation. It came less than a week after an Ecuadorean man was beaten and robbed in an alleged bias attack in a nearby community in Suffolk county, where tensions over Hispanic immigration have simmered for years.
Ballance approached 49-year-old Chervern Cartier and her 20-year-old daughter, who were wearing the traditional Muslim robes called abayas, at a Hess gas station parking lot in Smithtown, authorities said. The daughter's name was not released.
After hurling epithets at the women and threatening to "chop you up into little pieces and kill you," Ballance spat on their car and drove his 1999 Green Mercury toward them before driving off, according to police and a court complaint.
The self-employed landscaper later told investigators, "They don't belong here" and "They shouldn't be walking around like that," Detective Sgt. Robert Reecks said.
"He is full of hatred," Reecks said. "He saw them, the way they were dressed, and it just set him off."
Ballance was being held on $10,000 cash bond. He is represented by the county Legal Aid Society, where the telephone rang unanswered Thursday evening. The organization has a policy of not commenting on ongoing cases. A message left at his Islandia home wasn't immediately returned.
The women weren't hurt. One of them took down the license plate number on the car Ballance was driving and gave it to police, Reecks said. No working telephone number for Cartier could be found.
The misdemeanor aggravated harassment charge against Ballance is used for crimes related to a victim's race, religion or certain other characteristics. If convicted, he could face up to four years in prison.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim advocacy group, urged authorities to consider federal civil rights charges against Ballance. A spokesman for federal prosecutors didn't immediately return a telephone call Thursday evening.
In the victim's statement, Cartier said a white male came up behind them yelling, "Take that stuff off. What do you think it is, Halloween?" according to Newsday. The man followed them into the store, continuing to yell.
In a statement signed by Ballance, he said that while he was at the station, "two people dressed for Halloween looking like the wicked witch," pulled in, the Long Island paper reported.
"I don't have any idea what they were wearing," the statement said. "They shouldn't be allow to wear that around here.
"This is not Iraq. They should not be dressing like that here. Send them back to Iraq," he said in the statement.