ATLANTIC CITY — City Councilman MD Hossain Morshed underwent surgery Monday morning to repair broken bones in his eye socket and nose that he sustained during an assault Thursday night.
Meanwhile, officials from two advocacy groups who are opposing City Council’s efforts to move a long-running needle exchange program out of the city’s Tourism District have called for the state Attorney General’s office to investigate the attack after Morshed said his assailants threatened him over council’s actions.
Morshed, who spoke to The Press of Atlantic City on Sunday night from his hospital bed, said one of his attackers stepped forward and said to him: “Don’t go against drug business. Don’t go against needle exchange.”
Atlantic City police are investigating the assault and had no new information to release Monday, according Lt. Kevin Fair.
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Carol Harney, chief executive officer for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, called on state agencies to launch their own investigation.
“The South Jersey AIDS Alliance does not condone violence of any kind and has never or would never use violent means for any reason. We categorically deny having anything to do with the cowardly attack on Councilman Morshed,” Harney said. “We call upon the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, NJ Office of the Attorney General to undertake a complete investigation which we are confident will result in an unequivocal finding that the SJAA had nothing to do with the attack. We wish Councilman Morshed a speedy and complete recovery.”
Harney said Monday that while the AIDS Alliance is against the city proposal to remove the needle exchange, they are on the city’s side in wanting to stop drug use in the resort.
The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations also called on the Attorney General to investigate the attack.
Jenna Mellor, executive director of the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, echoed Harney’s calls for the Attorney General to investigate, and questioned Morshed’s account.
“The Office of the Attorney General should conduct an independent investigation into every aspect of the attack, given the timing and nature of the allegations and recent politicization of the syringe access program,” Mellor said.
In an interview Sunday from his hospital bed, Morshed said that six people were involved in the attack, threatening him while holding guns then beating him in the face.
A police news release Friday night said officers were investigating reports of an assault that occurred Thursday evening at a parking lot near the intersection of Florida and Atlantic avenues.
“Officers arrived to find a victim, MD Hossain Morshed, 47, the 4th Ward councilman for the City of Atlantic City. Morshed was transported to the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Division, for treatment of nonlife threatening injuries.” No mention of a drug deal, or references to the exchange center were in the release.
The needle exchange program, which was the first to open in New Jersey in 2007, has long been debated by city officials. Council cast the first vote for an ordinance to repeal the program during a June 16 meeting. In a 7-2 vote, the members overwhelmingly supported getting rid of the needle exchange. Morshed was one of the seven in favor of ending the program. A final vote will be held Wednesday.
Morshed said Sunday that late Thursday night he left Masjid Al-Hera mosque on Atlantic Avenue and walked to his car, which was parked in a lot on the corner of Florida and Atlantic avenues.
“When I tried to get off of that parking lot to Florida Avenue, unfortunately one car blocked me,” he said. “It was dark, and I didn’t know what was going on. I get out of my car and was going to ask them why, ‘Why you guys block me?’”
Morshed said another car pulled up and blocked another exit. He said three passengers in that car were armed with guns.
That’s when Morshed said one of the attackers told him not to go against the needle exchange.
“I was scared and very politely I asked him, ‘This is not the right time to talk about this issue,’” Morshed said. He asked the person if he knew who he was, and the man began to curse at Morshed and said, “I don’t care (about) any councilmen,” Morshed said.
Morshed said the man then struck him in his left eye, then hit his nose. Morshed said he was struck five to seven times. Morshed said he then fell to the ground and was kicked several times by the other two people that were outside of the vehicle holding guns.
“They said two sentences: ‘This is a message for Atlantic City. This is a message for Atlantic City police,’” Morshed said.
Council President George Tibbitt, who supports repealing the needle exchange program, said Morshed’s story has not changed since Thursday.
“He was coming out of his mosque and they (suspects) were parked in front of his car doing a drug deal. When he got out and said something about it, a man and a woman had a gun and they (the man and woman) knew the people in the other car.”
Tibbitt said the assault will not impact the final vote on Wednesday.
Councilmen Moisse “Mo” Delgado, who, along with Councilwoman LaToya Dunston, voted against repealing the needle exchange, believes the assault was not related to the needle exchange specifically.
“It (the assault) happened, but I think the pretense of what happened had nothing to do with the needle exchange,” Delgado said. “I think aggression was met with more aggression.”
Dunston could not be reached for comment Monday.
Council Vice President Kaleem Shabazz said since he wasn’t present when Morshed was attacked, he has to accept that things unfolded as Morshed said they did.
Shabazz also noted that the attack has highlighted the need for more police officers in local neighborhoods.
Councilmen Jeffree Fauntleroy and Aaron Randolph declined to comment while Councilman Jesse Kurtz wished Morshed a speedy recovery and said society needs to rediscover how to debate issues without turning to violence.
Mayor Marty Small Sr. said Morshed was “a dedicated advocate for Atlantic City residents and businesses over the years, and has the full support of my administration during this difficult time.”
“This type of senseless violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our city. I am confident in the Atlantic City Police Department’s ability to investigate this incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. I encourage anyone with information about those involved to contact the ACPD.”
Alyana Alfaro, a spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy, said he was “deeply disturbed by the heinous attack on Councilman Morshed.”
Alfaro said the incident has not changed the governor’s support for needle exchange services in the city.
Anyone with additional information regarding the incident is urged to contact the Atlantic City Police Department Criminal Investigations Section at 609-347-5766. Information can be text to tip411 (847411). Begin the text with ACPD. All texts are anonymous.
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