By LINDSAY WISE, HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Yaqub Bham’s visit to a residence in Tomball on Wednesday was supposed to be routine for the 61-year-old ADT salesman, who had come to inspect a client’s property before installing a home security system.
Instead, the homeowner, David L. Nienberg, allegedly tried to stab Bham with a fork, bit off part of his ear, and beat him so badly that he broke 10 ribs.
Nienberg, 42, of Tomball, is charged with aggravated assault. If convicted, he could serve from two to 20 years in prison.
Bham’s distraught family members want the incident investigated as a possible hate crime against Bham, a Muslim native of Pakistan who became an American citizen in 2007.They say an agitated Nienberg became violent after asking Bham about the origin of his name and where he was from.
Harris County sheriff’s deputies who responded to a 911 call from Nienberg’s family about 5:50 p.m. on Wednesday did not mention the questions about Bham’s name and origins in their report, said Deputy Thomas Gilliland, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.
Gilliland said Nienberg apparently became angry while reviewing the contract for a security system in his four-bedroom home on Everhart Pointe Drive. When Bham offered to make another contract, or change it, “the defendant took the backpack that Mr. Bham had and wouldn’t give him the backpack, which contained the keys to his vehicle,” Gilliland said.
The two men’s verbal disagreement then became physical, the deputy said.
Nienberg lunged at Bham with a fork, Gilliland said he was told. Relatives took the implement away, but Nienberg allegedly managed to get Bham in a choke hold, beat him, and bite him while muttering about military operations.
When deputies arrived, Nienberg refused to let go of Bham until they “secured the perimeter” and “secured women personnel,” Gilliland said.
It took three deputies to pull Nienberg off Bham, he said. They deployed Tasers on Nienberg twice, and even then, the furious man continued to kick and spit after they wrestled him into a patrol car, said Gilliland.
Bham, who was recovering Friday in a local hospital, immigrated to Houston in 1997 and is the married father of three adult children. He and his family proudly became U.S. citizens four years ago, said his daughter, Shazdeh Bham, 23.
“When we moved to the States, it was for educational opportunities and just a better living, a better life,” she said.
Every once in a while, the Bham family hears negative comments like, “Go back to your country where you belong,” Shazdeh Bham said, “but it’s never bothered us. It never made us think twice about anything.”
The attack on her father was different, though, and frightening.
“I’m just really angry, and I’m extremely confused because I still don’t understand why this happened, and what triggered this … and why this person caused this much harm and this much hurt to my father,” she said. “Now I just want to see justice. I want to see this person punished for what he did.”
Shazdeh Bham said her father is a hardworking citizen who would never say anything negative about anyone.
“He is a patient and positive person,” she added. “He is very easy to work with. His family is his entire life, which is his only priority.”
Nienberg’s questions about Bham’s name and background suggest that the attack might have been motivated by racial or religious bias, said Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The group on Friday joined Bham’s family in calling on local law enforcement and the FBI to investigate the incident as a possible hate crime.
“It’s because of what precipitated the attack that makes us think it has all the elements of a hate crime: ‘What does your name mean? Where are you from?’ And then boom, he jumped on him,” Carroll said.
“The level of hate speech and rhetoric that we hear on a fairly regular basis in society – the baseless accusations that Muslims are trying to take over America, or they’re trying to bring Sharia law, or they’re trying to subvert the government – this baseless rhetoric keeps the environment heated for something like this to happen, for the possibility of violence,” he said. “When you say that stuff over and over and over, it begins to play on your psychology toward a certain group of people.”
Motives a mystery
Nienberg has no prior criminal history in Harris County.
After hearing about his use of military terms, deputies asked Nienberg’s relatives if he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, Gilliland said. They were told that Nienberg is a veteran but that he had never served in any type of conflict, nor had he ever been deployed overseas.
Neither Bham nor Nienberg’s family members offered a clue as to what went wrong, Gilliland said.
He said deputies are looking into whether Nienberg was under the influence of narcotics or alcohol or had suffered a mental break, “because it was just incoherent, the things that he was saying.”
It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether to upgrade the charges to a hate crime, Gilliland said.
As it is, Nienberg is charged with a second-degree felony.
He is being held in a Harris County Jail on $30,000 bail.