A group of Muslim men praying in a public park in California were allegedly accosted by a woman who insulted their religion before attacking one of the men, according to authorities.
The men were praying near the volleyball courts in Lake Chabot Regional Park on Sunday when the woman approached them, District Public Information Officer Carolyn Jones said.
“They were having a conversation about religion and it very quickly escalated,” Jones said about the incident, which was captured, in part, on camera.
The woman, identified by officials as a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employee Denise Slader, told the men that the Quran is “evil” and Allah is “Satan,” Jones said.
In the video, the woman can be heard saying: “The people you tortured are going to be in eternity in heaven. You are very deceived by Satan. Your mind has been taken over, brainwashed. And you have nothing but hate, nothing but hate.”
Rasheed Albeshari, 31, who filmed the exchange, said he was waiting for his friends in the car when he saw Slader approach the group.
“This lady just came up to one of them … and started shouting and yelling, 'Allah is Satan. You guys are all murderers and you've been brainwashed. You just destroy everything nice,’" he told INSIDE EDITION.
His friends said that they loved and believed in Jesus, which seemed to anger Slader even more, Albeshari said.
“That’s when her voice started getting louder,” he said.
In the video, a woman who appears to be a park ranger tells Slader her behavior is “really inappropriate.”
Slader said she was the victim, replying: “It is inappropriate, you’re right, for somebody to tape record me, it is inappropriate, you’re right.”
Albeshari can be heard saying: “This woman was talking about my God.”
When Slader realized Albeshari was recording her, she hit him with an umbrella and threw a cup of coffee on him, Jones said. Slader went after the man, yelling “Get out!” as she struck him, the footage shows.
Park police separated the group and took statements for an incident report, which they forwarded to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, Jones said.
Police recommended Slader be charged with misdemeanor battery, Jones said, noting that it will be up to the District Attorney’s office to determine if the woman should be charged with a hate crime.
Albeshari said he was floored when he was hit and splashed with coffee.
“I felt so angry. I wasn’t sure what (was) the right thing to do… I wasn’t seeing anything at that time with the coffee in my face,” he said.
The investigation into the incident is ongoing and officials do not expect to have a full review of the case until next week, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office told IE.
Albeshari said he hopes Slader is prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“Absolutely. That’s a hate crime. It’s the definition of a hate crime,” he said.
The Park District is comprised of 65 parks and is considered to be an extremely diverse area.
“I think it’s one of the most diverse places in the country,” Jones said. “This is really unusual. In light of recent events… it’s particularly disturbing. People go to parks to get away from this stuff for a while… to have some peace and quiet, and some actual peace."
“To have something like this (happen), it’s really awful. People should be able to go to the park and pray to Mecca if they want.”
Albeshari, who was born in the United States before moving to Yemen as a child and returning to America in 2007, added: “Californians are so accepting, tolerant, beautiful people. I wasn’t expecting this. I wasn’t expecting this at all.”
Slader has been employed by the CDCR for approximately 10 years as a program technician with the Division of Adult Parole Operations, a spokesperson for the Department said in a statement to IE.
“We expect all of our employees to treat everyone with dignity and respect both on and off the job. In addition to the police investigation, an internal CDCR investigation into the incident is ongoing. We cannot comment on the specifics of that investigation, however, discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated,” the spokesperson said.
CDCR employee conduct is described in state law and departmental policy.
“Irresponsible or unethical conduct or conduct reflecting discredit on themselves or the department, either on or off duty, shall be avoided by all employees,” the code of regulations notes.
Employees are expected to “demonstrate professionalism, honesty, and integrity” at all times, as well as “respect the rights of others and treat them fairly," regardless of any discernible quality, including religion.
“I was shocked,” Albeshari said of learning that his alleged attacker was an employee of the State. “If there are Muslim prisoners that she works with, she is not going to treat them like others.”
The incident comes on the heels of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, which have led many Muslims to express fear of reprisals from incensed communities.
“It happened once. It can happen again,” Albeshari said. “She just came at us because we were praying. Because she knew those guys are Muslims… What if it was a woman in my situation? Or a kid?“
Those in fear or angry need to educate themselves on the religion and people associated with Islam, he said.
“We share the same religion, but not the same concepts or views,” Albeshari said of those responsible for the attacks. “You know, there are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world.”
Still, the response to Albeshari’s video, which has been overwhelmingly supportive, has been encouraging for him.
“I’ve seen a lot of support from people from all over the world. It’s just beautiful. They know she was wrong. We’re not terrorists, as this lady claimed,” he said.
Attempts made by IE to reach Slader were unsuccessful.
A woman who identified herself as Slader’s mother said: “No comment. My daughter didn’t kill nobody, she didn’t rape nobody, so why is this a big deal?”