Just before he sentenced Malik Fard Muhammad, a federal judge Tuesday wanted to understand what drove the 25-year-old man to hurl Molotov cocktails at police in Portland and break windows during mass protests in the city’s downtown in 2020.
“Everybody wants to know what happened with you?” U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez asked. “How did this happen?”
Muhammad, who traveled with his girlfriend from Indiana to Portland during the height of the social justice protests two years ago, now stood in a blue jail smock in Hernandez’s 15th floor courtroom, beside a public defender.
“Lots of frustration with the system and frustration with not being heard,” Muhammad told the judge.
He said he led peaceful protests in his home state of Indiana and met with the governor there but “felt unheard and dismissed and things just escalated to a point that I can’t take back.”
Hernandez pressed further.
“I mean, you’re a bright guy. … So I was just wondering what your thought process was that suddenly put you in the position where you thought that this was OK, this was the thing to do, where people could get hurt or killed? I’m having trouble grasping how you got there.”
“I have trouble with it, too,” Muhammad responded. “I was manic at the moment. I wasn’t on the medication.”
Assistant Federal Public Defender Fidel Cassino-DuCloux said Muhammad has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress and has been on medication since his federal arrest.
“I just regret my decisions, and if I could take them back, I would,” Muhammad told the judge. “I’m here now to atone for them.”
Federal prosecutor Adam Delph said Muhammad threw a Molotov cocktail that landed 15 feet from a police vehicle on Sept. 5, 2020, outside the Penumbra Kelly Building in Southeast Portland and threw a similar device at a line of officers in downtown on Sept. 23, 2020.
The Molotov cocktail that landed in front of a line of officers near the downtown Justice Center created a large flame that scorched the uniform and lower leg of Portland police Officer Dustin Barth near the intersection of Southwest Second Avenue and Main Street, according to court records.
In October 2020, Muhammad smashed out windows of the Oregon Historical Society and a Portland State University building with a metal baton, supplying other rioters with baseball bats to break out downtown windows before running from police with a loaded handgun, according to Delph.
He said Muhammad previously served in the U.S. Army.
He could have used his skills “to come into this district and be someone who could have led and righteously addressed issues of injustice,” Delph told the court.
The 10-year sentence, reached after plea negotiations between federal and state prosecutors and Muhammad’s defense lawyer, should send a message of deterrence to others, Delph said.
“If you come into this district to sow discord, to commit further violence and to exacerbate these issues, you’ll be held accountable,” Delph said.
Muhammad has forfeited the approximately $200,000 that the Portland Freedom Fund posted to bail him out of jail after his initial arrest on state charges as restitution, according to his lawyer.
The fund put up 10%, or $212,500, of his $2.1 million bail. He was arrested on the federal charges two days later and returned to jail. The Freedom Fund is a nonprofit that provides “resources to people incarcerated while awaiting trial,” according to its business registration with Oregon’s secretary of state’s office.
Delph argued that Muhammad repeatedly endangered the lives of law enforcement officers, caused thousands of dollars in property damage and encouraged others to commit violence.
Prosecutors previously have cited in court Muhammad’s social media posts that promoted violence toward police in other cities, including Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Chicago, arguing that they revealed his “anti-government/anti-authority violent extremist” ideology.
In one photo depicting events in Kenosha, Muhammad added a caption that read, “Kill cops. Shoot back. We say no justice no peace we mean NO PEACE,” according to Delph. On another, Muhammad referenced a news story about Chicago gangs forming a pact to execute cops who draw weapons and wrote, “shoot, every opportunity you have,” Delph wrote in a federal motion seeking Muhammad’s detention.
“This was not a one-time act during a protest. Muhammad came to Portland—while heavily armed—with the intent to engage in violent activities. And he did just that,” Delph wrote to the court.
In federal court, Muhammad pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing unregistered destructive devices. Federal charges of civil disorder, unlawful use of explosives and possession of a firearm were dismissed.
In state court, he pleaded guilty in March to four counts of riot, two counts of attempted second-degree murder, four counts of criminal mischief and one count each of manufacture of a destructive device, possession of a destructive device, possession of a firearm and second-degree assault.
The sentence includes time for both the state and federal cases. The federal civil disorder charge that was dismissed brings a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and the use of explosives offense carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence that would have had to run consecutive to other prison terms, Delph told the judge. With Muhammad pleading to possessing destructive devices, the negotiated agreement results in a 10-year prison term that runs concurrent to the state’s sentence of the same amount.
Prosecutors took into account Muhammad’s past military service and history of abuse as a child. Cassino-DuCloux said Muhammad saw his army lieutenant crushed by a tank during training in the United States.
Under the negotiated sentence, Muhammad will serve his time in the Oregon State Correctional Institution. Of the 10 year prison term, he’ll receive credit for time served only for the first eight years and four months, and then he’ll be eligible to receive time off his sentence for good behavior and other credits for the remaining time in custody.
“The risk of a law enforcement officer or community member being seriously hurt or killed by the actions of this individual was very real,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said in a statement after the sentencing. “I’m gratified to know that he is being held accountable for the danger his criminal actions caused. I want to extend my sincere thanks to the investigators and prosecutors whose diligent, meticulous work made this sentence possible, as well as the members of PPB and other agencies who put themselves at risk to protect our city against violence and destruction during this period of time.”
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