Family Fights on Plaza, in Court
Feb 22, 2013 (Albuquerque Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The burgeoning story of a feud among downtown merchants in Santa Fe involves guns being fired near the Plaza, restraining orders, alleged retaliation between factions and now a land dispute in Palestine and large amounts of marijuana.
A hearing on a restraining order that is part of the dispute had to be put on hold Thursday as the Santa Fe police confiscated bulk packages of marijuana from the home of one of the men involved.
The marijuana -- 32 pounds of it -- was sealed in bags typically used to preserve food. The bags were tagged with markers describing the strain of marijuana, such as "blue dream" and "kush," and its quality.
Capt. Aric Wheeler said the pot was taken from a large gun safe in the Duran Street home of Ashraf Nassar, 29, who runs the Heavenly Boutique store on West San Francisco downtown.
Along with the marijuana, police confiscated a handgun, a shotgun and a handgun magazine loaded with soft armor-piercing rounds.
The raid pre-empted a restraining order hearing in which Ashraf Nassar was defending himself against his cousin Musa Nassar and several other plaintiffs, many of whom are relatives or business partners.
During the hearing before District Court Judge Frank Mathew, Ashraf Nassar's wife handed Ashraf's attorney Tom Clark a note saying police were serving a search warrant on their home.
Clark wondered aloud in court whether the raid could be retaliation for a tense cross-examination he conducted of Detective Charles Lujan about a missing wallet Lujan allegedly took from Ashraf Nassar last month, when the feud boiled over into gunshots downtown.
But Wheeler said police had been working the drug case for about two months, beginning with tips from people about alleged drug activity at Ashraf's house. Wheeler said the police will seek a warrant for Ashraf's arrest on drug distribution charges.
Ashraf Nassar's Heavenly Boutique at 203 W. San Francisco sits across the street from the Santa Fe West Gallery, which is owned by his apparent rival, Musa Nassar.
The rivalry is complex, involving several different members of the Nassar family and their business associations. Police have been tight-lipped about the details, sharing little even after Musa Nassar on Jan. 7 fired several shots at a car on West San Francisco -- in the heart of Santa Fe's Plaza-area tourist district -- claiming someone inside the car pointed a gun at him.
Ashraf Nassar was detained for a time in his store by Lujan immediately following the shooting, but he wasn't arrested.
Restraining order hearings
More details about the rivalry are coming to the surface in hearings over a restraining order requested by Musa Nassar and others against Ashraf Nassar. They accuse Ashraf of harassing, making death threats to and sending people to harass the opposing members of his family and their business partners.
During the second hearing in the case Thursday, the first person to take the stand was Faten Nassar, Musa's wife and Ashraf's sister. She said that Ashraf's side of the family was angry with her because of a dispute over land her husband has in Palestine. Faten Nassar indicated she feels caught in the middle between her immediate family and her husband. She said her brother accused her of "selling her family cheap."
Faten Nassar testified that on Oct. 3 she received several angry phone calls from her brother Ashraf, who was upset that Adel Nassar, their sibling, was "hit" in an attack at the Santa Fe Smoke Works at 1209 Cerrillos Road.
She said Ashraf demanded to know where her husband Musa was. Ashraf later went on to tell her he knew where she lived, where her children went to school and what time she leaves her home.
She testified that she was afraid of Ashraf. Near the end of her testimony she spoke emotionally about a shooting that peppered her and Musa Nassar's home with bullets on Feb. 10. "They shot at my home," Faten Nassar said, nearly crying. "My son was sleeping on the couch. Sir, when I take out my trash at home I'm scared."
Wheeler said police are investigating whether that shooting had any connection to the family feud but as of Thursday no one has been charged with firing into the house.
Smoke shop incidents
Thursday's hearing wasn't the first time the Nassar family tried resolving their differences with a restraining order.
Musa and Faten Nassar and four other plaintiffs sought an order against Adel Nassar and other members of Faten Nassar's family in April 2012. The plaintiffs alleged Adel Nassar, Faten and Ashraf's brother hit Musa Nassar over the head with a bottle and that the other Nassars were threatening and attempting to file false police reports about the plaintiffs.
In October 2012, Adel Nassar filed a motion in that case that sheds more light on the "hit" Faten Nassar talked about on the witness stand. Adel Nassar alleged that on Oct. 3, Musa Nassar and Musa's brother-in-law Adli Safi attacked him at Santa Fe Smoke Works. He maintained they came in and started yelling at him about a phone call. Adel said he told them they were violating a temporary restraining order by being at the store and they began to beat him with their fists. He alleged that a surveillance video of the attack shows that Musa Nassar had a handgun.
Clark questioned Safi about the alleged encounter during testimony Thursday. Safi admitted to going over to the smoke shop with Musa Nassar to ask about a phone call, but he said he didn't attack Adel. He said he was trying to get in the middle to separate Musa and Adel.
Detective Lujan testified he's seen a video of the incident on a cellphone. Lujan said he told someone to report the beating to police, but the police weren't contacted.
There subsequently was a more serious attack at Santa Fe Smoke Works. Later in October, another man, the 22-year-old owner of the store, was stabbed after being approached by two men in the parking lot. Wheeler said on Thursday that police have not been able to make a connection between the stabbing and the other incidents.
The violence involving the Nassar family spilled over into Santa Fe's tourism center on Jan. 7 when Musa Nassar fired at the car on W. San Francisco.
Before the shots were fired, police were stationed in plain clothes at and near different businesses Musa Nassar owns in town, Detective Lujan testified on Thursday. The stakeouts apparently were part of the police investigation of the feud.
Lujan said before the gunfire he overheard Ashraf Nassar comment that Musa Nassar would soon be "on the ground." Lujan said he made a note of the comment and hid himself inside Musa's Santa Fe West Gallery across the street from Ashraf's Heavenly Boutique.
Lujan said he heard a loud bang outside, which he said he didn't identify as a gunshot, but which someone could mistake for gunfire. District Attorney Angela Pacheco and Chief Deputy District Attorney Juan Valencia have said previously that the sound was caused by someone striking a car with a rock.
Musa Nassar told police the night of the shooting he saw a car outside with someone pointing a gun at him. Police did not charge Musa Nassar for firing at the car -which sped away from the scene -- because, Wheeler has said, Musa felt his life was in danger.
Lujan went into Ashraf Nassar's store following the shooting, detained him and confiscated a cellphone. Ashraf Nassar said he was inside eating when the shooting took place.
Musa Nassar also fired a gun out of a window of his Sunset Ridge home later that same night. Nassar told police that motion-sensitive lights at his home came on and he saw men with rifles on the street outside. He insisted that he was in danger at that point also, but he was cited with negligent use of a deadly weapon.
The restraining order hearing will continue Wednesday.
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