Two New York Police Department police officers were fired in March after a judge at in internal disciplinary trial found them guilty of sexual abuse and rape of a 15-year-old girl, according to a searing ruling made public last week.
The ruling found that the officers – Sanad Musallam, 34, and Yaser Shohatee, 41 – “targeted the minor as a particularly vulnerable individual they were morally obliged to protect but chose to take advantage of to satisfy their depraved interests,” Paul Gamble, the department's assistant deputy commissioner of trials who was acting in the capacity of a judge, said in a 41-page report recommending their termination.
Between 2015 and 2016, records claim Musallam and Shohatee carried out months-long relationships with the teen during which they raped her and exchanged hundreds of texts.
"The insidious and sinister nature of his repeated actions would cause any responsible adult, let alone a parent, to recoil in horror," the judge wrote of Musallam following December 2020 and January 2021 court dates.
The girl's mother filed a complaint with NYPD's internal affairs, and the department began an internal investigation in 2018.
Gamble determined in March that both officers raped the girl, who was 15 years old at the time and unable to consent. Acting on Gamble's recommendation to terminate the officers, who denied the allegations, the NYPD fired Musallam and Shohatee.
Neither officer has been criminally charged. Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said in a statement to USA TODAY that the teen chose not to pursue a criminal case.
"While investigating the trafficking of a teenage girl, our office learned of troubling allegations that she was sexually abused by two police officers years earlier," the statement said. "While the young victim repeatedly refused to participate in any criminal or other legal proceedings, we referred our findings to the Internal Affairs Bureau, ultimately leading to the officers’ termination."
Musallam, who joined the NYPD in 2008, met the girl after her mother asked him to "look out" for her daughter when she returned home after running away. The mother gave the officer the teen's phone number, and Musallam recommended the girl join the New York Police Department Explorers, a youth program for 14- to 20-year-olds, according to disciplinary reports.
Musallam exchanged 742 text messages and 80 phone calls with the teen between July 2015 and the end of 2016, Gamble found.
The girl told her mother that Musallam had coerced her into performing a sexual act while in his car and had her send him a revealing photo of herself.
Roger Blank, the attorney representing Musallam, told USA TODAY that his client denies any sexual contact with the teen. He said "there is not a single inappropriate text from my client to the complainant" and added that the girl was only in the officer's car for "about five minutes" while her mother was outside. He said there was little opportunity for any sexual misconduct to occur under those circumstances.
Blank also said the 742 text messages were spread out over time and only amounted to a few texts a week, which he said is not a concerning number.
He said the NYPD "lacked political courage to say these allegations are serious but that we are not going to terminate and ruin someone's career when the evidence is not sufficient."
"He's an expendable police officer, and they don't want to take the political heat for saying the evidence is not there," Blank said.
Musallam testified that the revealing photo the teen sent him was unsolicited, according to the ruling. He denied requesting the photo and said he told her not to send such photos again.
But Gamble said Musallam never reported the revealing photo to his superiors or to the girl’s mother, saying the officer admitted to keeping the photo as "insurance" in case the teen accused him of misconduct.
"I find that its incriminating nature should have been immediately apparent to any reasonable adult, let alone a police officer," the report said.
"If his relationship with The Minor were wholly appropriate...it would be unnecessary to retain such a photograph 'just in case,' the ruling added. "It is more likely than not that Respondent Musallam kept this photograph, being aware of his guilt of the misconduct charged in this case, in a corrupt scheme to undermine The Minor's credibility by suggesting that she possessed an unchaste character."
After Musallam learned the mother had reported him to NYPD's internal affairs, the report said he called her to tell her that he "had a family" and "didn't want any trouble."
"While no explicit threat was made during the conversation he had with her, his assertion that he "had a family" and "didn't want any trouble" could easily be interpreted as a thinly veiled invitation to recant her statements," according to the ruling.
Shohatee, who joined the department in 2005, met the teen through the Explorers program, which she participated in from fall 2015 to the following spring. He said he was trying to mentor the girl, a claim refuted in the ruling and by the teen's mom.
The investigation found the two exchanged over 800 texts and communicated over Snapchat. The teen alleged Shohatee requested nude photos over Snapchat and asked if she "would be down to have sex," the victim alleged. She also alleged Shohatee raped her "four or five times at his apartment," according to the disciplinary documents.
Shohatee acknowledged in his testimony that he exchanged the text messages with the girl and spent time with her after work hours, including times that she visited him alone in his apartment, court documents said.
The officer admitted he met the girl three times at night – one time in his car and the two other times in his apartment. The officer, however, denied any sexual contact and maintained he was only trying to help the girl.
At the time, Shohatee said he didn’t see anything wrong with having the girl in his apartment alone and late at night, and he didn’t report the incident to his superiors.
Gamble found these justifications "self-serving and largely unworthy of belief," He expressed doubt that the officer would not see "anything problematic" with him either having the girl alone in his apartment at night, calling it "absurd on its face."
Gamble determined Shohatee raped the girl at least twice inside his apartment.
“The trauma … Shohatee’s conduct caused (the girl) is incalculable and may well last a lifetime,” he said in the ruling.
Musallam and Shohatee both admitted to texting and meeting with the teenager, the ruling said, but the officers denied having any sexual contact with her.
Blank, the attorney representing Musallam, said the trial commissioner made a mistake in trying the two cases together, saying he "used a broad brush stroke to lump the two cases together," thereby not giving his client "a fair chance."
"It should have been separate trials because they were very different defenses and very different allegations," Blank said.
The attorney listed in court documents as representing Shohatee did not respond to requests for comment.
The New York Post reported the officers remained on the force at full pay until they were fired three weeks after Gamble's ruling and four years after the allegations were initially reported.
"There is zero tolerance in the NYPD for corruption of any kind and these two former officers forfeited their privilege to be part of our proud Police Department by disgracefully violating their oaths of office and the public trust," the NYPD said in a statement provided to USA TODAY. "These individuals are no longer members of this Police Department as a result of an internal NYPD disciplinary trial."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NYPD officers fired after judge finds them guilty of sex abuse, rape