People working for Neighbours nightclub became so frustrated that Seattle police discouraged them from releasing video—video that could identify a person of interest in an arson there on New Year's Eve—that last week they released the video footage to TV stations themselves. And now that The Stranger reported that police identified a person of interest as Musab Mohamad Masmari, a Neighbours spokesman wants to know why the man hasn't been detained and questioned.
"I think the police should bring him in for questioning," says Shaun Knittel, who is handling media for the Capitol Hill nightclub and is president of the gay-advocacy group Social Outreach Seattle. "I don’t understand the delay. What are they biding their time for?"
Photo from Musab Mohamed Masmari's Facebook page
Musab Mohamed Masmari
"The community needs to feel safe," Knittel continues. "It's not just about Neighbours. If there is someone out there trying to hurt one business, then they might be willing to hurt another. This is the one guy they wanted to ID, and three weeks into this [investigation], they have a name. I don't get the game that they are playing."
The Seattle Police Department's media bureau—which has several staffers—has not answered its telephone today, nor have SPD spokespeople responded to e-mails and voice mails seeking comments.
Knittel says his frustrations with the SPD began last week. Police were pressuring the club to withhold video surveillance footage from inside the club that showed a person of interest in the case (even though police had released grainy still shots taken from that video of the man on January 13 and asked the public for help identifying him). "The photos were out but they were blurry, and people couldn't ID the person, because the photos were so bad," Knittel explains. "The next logical thing is to release the video footage." But he says SPD Arson/Bomb Squad sergeant Jim Hansen discouraged Neighbours from releasing the video because he purportedly wanted to protect privacy of people in the club, an argument that Knittel says "didn't make sense." Knittel notes the club was packed for its busiest night of the year—not a time people expect to remain anonymous.
Besides, Knittel adds, "When someone tries to burn down a club with 750 people inside it, the investigation trumps privacy. It's not in like you are in a private club." Knittel made the decision to leak the video to the media.
TV stations aired the video on January 18, two days after Masmari appeared at a sentencing hearing for an assault conviction, according to Seattle Municipal Court records. It bears mentioning that hearing was three days after January 13, when the SPD Blotter posted the photos of what appears to be Masmiri (and long after police were in possession of the clearer video), raising questions as to whether the SPD missed a chance to question Masmari.
Masmari, who has faced a few other criminal charges in the last year, is scheduled to return to court on February 18 to serve a 30 day sentence. Court records say he is currently out on work-release, but his exact whereabouts at this time are unknown.
Knittel is not alone in his frustrations. Two business owners I spoke to yesterday expressed disappointment after several people they knew had reported Masmari to investigators and never heard back from the police. Others did hear back: A woman who asked to remain anonymous told me today she called police on Tuesday to report that she believed Masmari was the man in the photos and video. Police returned her call to say they "were quite aware of Musab [Masmari] and said they have received multiple calls about him," the woman said. She adds that "the person in question does look very much like Musab [Masmari]. That doesn't mean it is him, but the police know him well, and should have the resources available to determine if it is in fact him in the video."
It is not clear that Masmari is officially a suspect. He is a person of interest in the case, according to a voice mail we received from SPD yesterday. Neither The Stranger, the SPD, or anyone named in our reporting are saying that Masmari committed this crime.
The Stranger is trying to ask the SPD several unresolved questions about the case, including: Why was Neighbours discouraged from releasing the video? Why has the SPD failed to respond to several people who say they have information about Masmari? Was Masmari a person of interest at the time of his latest sentencing hearing? Why hasn't Masmari been brought in for questioning?
We'll post new information as it becomes available.