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Accused Fresno Pepper-Spray Attacker in Court, Faces Hate Crime Charge



Defendant Brian Turner, left, listens as his attorney Marc Kapetan makes a comment during Thursday's hearing over the alleged pepper spraying of protesters in 2021. (GV Wire/David Taub)
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An ancient conflict thousands of miles away was a central theme during a preliminary hearing in a Fresno County Superior courtroom.

The Fresno County District Attorney’s office is accusing Brian Turner of illegally deploying pepper spray during a pro-Palestinian rally May 18, 2021 in north Fresno. He also faces hate crime enhancements.

Nearly two years ago, Turner, 64, allegedly pulled up to the intersection of westbound Nees Avenue at Blackstone Avenue, next to a flag-waving car of Ahmad Qutami, his cousin Faisel Alqatami, and friend Faisal Aboelrish. All three men said they are of Palestinian descent.

In sometimes conflicting testimony, the men said that Turner reacted to the flag waving with a disdainful head shaking, escalating with a profanity-laced shouting match, culminating with pepper spray.

The men immediately pulled over on Blackstone to complain to police.

“All I know is that we went there to protest in peace. And I don’t know why this ended up happening,” Aboelrish, a 20-year old student, said on the stand.

The hearing in Judge Alvin Harrell, III’s Fresno County Superior Court room is to determine whether the case goes to trial. Prosecutor Anthony Muia presented his case Thursday. On Friday, attorney Marc Kapetan will present his defense on behalf of Turner.

Turner faces three counts of illegally using teargas with hate crime enhancements.

Ancient Conflict a Focus

Muia started asking each witness about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Kapetan asked similar questions in his cross examination.

Qutami,  21-year old Caltrans engineer, testified he was at the the protest to support Palestine.

“There was a lot of violence happening in our own country of Palestine. And we had a lot of friends and family who are Palestinian, who live in Fresno, California. And a lot of us just wanted to go and show support, try to make a change,” Quatami said as to why he attended the protest.

Qutami also talked about Israel “taking over” Palestine since the 1900s, with Israel growing 90% and Palestine shrinking by the same amount.

Alqutami, a 21-year old student, said Israel is made up of “people that don’t like us” and didn’t think Israel was a country.

During testimony, Qutami said he was the front-seat passenger, and recorded a brief video to Snapchat when the argument became more aggressive.

The video had no audio. Qutami explained that his smart phone was playing music through the car at the time, answering Kapetan’s line of questioning.

Sometimes nervous, Qutami said Turner shook his head when the two cars were waiting next to each other at a red light. Turner allegedly said “we’re going to kill all the Palestinians.”

Alqatami and Aboelrish also testified that Turner made that comment. Both also testified that Turner allegedly said “we do not stand with you.”

Above: Ahmad Qutami testifies. Below: testimony from Faisel Alqutami. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Both Qutami and Alqutami said they were upset with Turner’s comments and lack of support for Palestine. Alqutami said he assumed Turner was Israeli.

Qutami testified that both he and Turner shouted profanity at each other, with Turner eventually pepper spraying the three men.

“It burned,” Qutami testified. He had to go to the hospital later that evening.

Alqutami and Aboelrish both testified that Turner made a hand gesture they interpreted to symbolize White Power. Alqatami said he assumed Turner supported Israel, and saying “he probably hates us.” The White Power remark was stricken from the record. Kapetan also requested the remark stricken for the media as well, which Harrell allowed.

Despite Kapetan’s objection, GV Wire used the stricken comments for this story. David Loy, legal director for the First Amendment Coalition, said it would be an “unconstitutional” de facto gag order.

“A judge can’t tell you what to report,” Loy said.

While the motivation may be to avoid prejudicing a future jury, Loy said there are ways around that. Voir dire, the process to pick a jury, could be used to filter out anyone who might have been exposed to coverage of the Turner case.

Contradiction in Testimony

There was plenty of contradiction of the three men’s testimony. Qutami and Alqutami — the driver — were unsure if backseat passenger Aboelrish got out of the car when it was stopped at the light. They also could not recall if he ran after Turner’s car once the light turned green. There was also confusion whether a unknown person jumped in the car while the argument heated up.

Aboelrish testified that he did leave the car, but did not go around the door. When prodded by Kapetan, he did admit to waving a Palestinian flag toward Turner’s direction.

“I did wave the flag, but not at his face, but in front of him,” Aboelrish said.

He initially said he would not wave a flag toward someone because it might “upset people.” He also said the he was holding the flag still, and the wind blew it around.

Kapetan then played a security video, showing a clearer picture of what happened.

The video shows Aboelrish waving a flag out the back right window, then peeking his body through the window. Aboelrish then steps out of the car then back in. The video does not provide a clear view of Turner’s actions.

The Snapchat video recorded by Qutami and seen in news stories two years ago, shows Turner spraying something from a cannister.

After Turner’s car left, Aboelrish is seen jumping out of the car again, running toward the intersection.

Other facts that seemed in conflict with the three testimonies included how long they were driving around, if they were honking the horn, where the flags were waving in the car, and what they told police after the incident.

Fresno Police Officer Benito Soto testified he later found canisters of pepper spray and a gun magazine in Turner’s car.

[4/21/23: this story has been updated to clarify that Soto testified he found a gun magazine in the car.]

Defendant Brian Turner (left), his attorney Marc Kapetan, and prosecutor Anthony Muia watch video of an alleged pepper spray incident during a protest in north Fresno. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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