It almost sounds like the makings of a joke: an atheist, a Muslim and the Mechanicsburg Halloween parade. But non-believers aren't laughing about an attack and insist what's really frightening is the way a district judge ruled on it.
The Atheists of Central Pennsylvania decided to walk in the Mechanicsburg Halloween parade. There was a zombie Pope and a zombie Muhammed. On YouTube, you can catch a scary moment. It's dark and distorted, but a Muslim man comes off the curb extremely offended at Muhammed being depicted in this way.
"He grabbed me, choked me from the back, and spun me around to try to get my sign off that was wrapped around my neck," said Ernie Perce, who donned the costume.
The Muslim man and Perce both called police to report a crime. Both kept walking, and a few blocks down found Sgt. Brian Curtis. He talked to both and came to this conclusion.
"Mr. Perce has the right to do what he did that evening, and the defendant in this case was wrong in confronting him," he said.
Talaag Elbayomy was charged with harassment, but District Judge Mark Martin threw it out after criticizing Perce, the victim, and even calling him a "doofus." The audio is also on YouTube.
Martin, who has done several tours of duty in the Middle East, said Perce would be put to death in those societies for his crime, but Perce wonders why that's relevant in this country.
"He let a man who is Muslim, because of his preference of his culture and his way of life, walk free from an attack," Perce said.
R. Mark Thomas represented Elbayomy and applauds the judge.
"I think this was a good dressing down by the judge," he said. "The so-called victim was the antagonist and we introduced evidence that clearly showed his attitude toward Muslims. The judge didn't do anything I wouldn't have done if I was in that position."
Although Elbayomy denied touching Perce at trial, Curtis said he admitted grabbing Perce's sign and beard the night of the incident.
Talaag Elbayomy said he was at the parade with his wife and two kids and felt he just had to do something. In fact, he too called police because he thought it was a crime for someone to depict Muhammed in such a way. He has since learned otherwise.