AUBURN – Tenants at 282 Main St. admit things got out of hand on July 16, when a confrontation with their Muslim neighbors erupted into a spectacle of barking dogs, baseball bats, taunts of “Taliban” and plenty of profanity.
For them, it was all a misunderstanding about one neighbor and his dog, a pit bull named Jake.
For Kenneth Post and Raihanah Alsameai, the Muslim couple, it was the cap to a weekend of harassment at the hands of their apartment-building neighbors.
It ended with police escorting Post and his wife out of the building, putting them up in a local hotel and serving protection orders on three of the tenants. Management company MTM Apartments Property is moving to evict four of them.
“We didn’t want any of this,” Post said Monday. “We just wanted to be left alone, to live our lives.”
Police have filed no charges, but they have passed all reports and information about the incidents to the Maine Attorney General’s office for review.
“They’ll look at it to determine if there needs to be hate-crime violations filed,” said Auburn Chief Phil Crowell. “What we know is that there was a problem, and it was escalating. It started with calls to police on the 13th, more on the 14th and 15th. Finally, it got to the point where we had to make some changes and put a stop to it.”
‘Are you a Taliban?’
Post and Alsameai moved to Auburn on July 5 from Bangor. Post planned to attend classes at Central Maine Community College and wanted to be closer to his mother, who lives in Auburn. The couple found an apartment overlooking Bonney Park and moved in.
Post said his neighbors welcomed him at first. A convert to Islam, the New York native said it seemed like a safe place for his Yemen-born wife and himself. He remembered shaking hands with one of his neighbors that first day.
He knew there were dogs in the building that frightened his wife, who had seen a 16-year-old hospitalized with dog bites when she was very young and has a deep fear of canines. But the dogs stayed out of the couple’s way.
Things changed a week later, on July 13, as they were returning from dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
“There were six or seven people there and three dogs, all blocking the entrance,” Alsameai said. The dogs were all leashed, but at least two barked at her and lunged to the end of their leashes, she said. They were close enough for her to smack them on their snouts with a bag of leftover food.
Later that night, when the couple left to go to evening prayers, the neighbors shouted questions: “What’s your religion?” and “Are you a Taliban?” Post said.
When Alsameai stepped out of her unit the next morning, she said she was chased back in by a brown pit bull named Jake. She and Post called police, who warned Jake’s owner, Terry Wayne Chesnel, to keep the animal under control. The police suggested Post buy pepper spray for his wife and himself and escorted them to their car.
The couple bought aluminum T-ball bats at Wal-Mart that day.
“I didn’t know where I could get pepper spray at that time, so this was the best I could do,” Post said.
The next day, Chesnel’s dog chased Post down the stairs and around the apartment building. Chesnel said Tuesday that he’d mistakenly left his front door open and the dog got loose.
“He wouldn’t hurt anybody,” Chesnel said. “He’s a big baby, but if you run, he wants to run with you. He wasn’t chasing that guy. He was trying to play with him.”
It was the last straw for Post, who begged apartment managers to find him a new apartment. They agreed Monday morning.
Harassment orders issued
When the couple arrived back at their building Monday afternoon, they found the courtyard full of people and dogs and a badminton net between them and their staircase.
“They told us, ‘This is the line you will not cross,'” Alsameai said. “They all started yelling things at us.”
The other tenants have a different version of events. Crystal Sullivan, 24, said she was sitting by one stairwell, blocking the dogs, and she told Post to come through and go up a second stairwell.
“And then he pulls out this bat and starts waving it around,” Sullivan said. There were children playing in the courtyard, and the tenants began yelling at him to put the bats down, she said.
Chesnel called Post a “Taliban,” according to Sullivan, and another woman called Post a traitor for becoming a Muslim.
Post said he was waving the bat at the dogs.
“They said I was threatening them, and threatening children,” Post said. “But I wasn’t. I was trying protect myself and my wife.”
Chief Crowell said police confiscated the bats, but gave them back to Post later Monday. Police put the couple up at the Riverside Motel for two nights and the Lewiston-Auburn Islamic Center put them up for three more at another hotel, while they looked for a new apartment.
“It’s still a good community, and I think we can still live here,” he said. “That was just a bad place.”
Police served protection from harassment orders on two of the building’s tenants, Chesnel and Cameron Hinkley. They served a third order on Christina Hernandez, who lives in a neighboring building on the property.
Both Hernandez and Hinkley said they were in the courtyard on July 16, but were not part of the incident.
“They think I’m the one who called him a Taliban and a traitor, but it wasn’t me,” Hernandez said.
Hinkley said he was planning to move this week, anyway.
“I have a family of my own,” he said. “I’m not involved in all of this, and I don’t want to be.”
The three are scheduled for hearings on the protection from harassment orders on Aug. 7 in Lewiston District Court.