fb-pixel

After assaulting Muslim tenant, landlord must learn about Islam

A Somerville landlord and Christian minister convicted of pushing her Muslim tenant down the stairs must comply with a judge’s order that she learn about the Islamic faith as part of her probation, the state’s highest court concluded Wednesday.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court left intact the probation imposed on Daisy Obi by Somerville District Court Judge Paul M. Yee Jr. in 2014. The SJC’s ruling was based on procedural grounds and didn’t directly address the probation condition.

Writing for the court, Justice Barbara Lenk noted that under court rules, a person must first object in a lower court if he or she wants the high court to review it. No such objection was made by Obi and her attorneys, Lenk wrote.

Advertisement



“While conditions of probation that touch on religion and risk incursion upon constitutionally protected interests should be imposed only with great circumspection, the defendant raised no such concerns before the trial court judge, and there is no information in the record that would allow us to evaluate her claims,’’ Lenk wrote.

“Because she raises these claims for the first time on appeal, they have been waived.”

The SJC did approve the six-month jail sentence and other probationary conditions Yee imposed after Obi, who is in her 70s and a long-time landlord, was convicted of assault and battery on Gilhan Suliman, who was a third-floor tenant for a short time in 2012.

Obi’s appellate attorney, Kimberly M. Peterson, was reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment.

In the Somerville courthouse, Yee ordered that Obi attend “an introductory class on Islam, and to provide her probation officer with written documentation that she had done so’’ and provide all future tenants with a written notice that she had been convicted of criminally assaulting one of her tenants.

Advertisement



He also ordered Obi to serve six months in the Middlesex County House of Correction.

“You have to respect the rights of people of the Muslim faith. You have to respect all people.’’ Yee told Obi, according to the SJC.

“That’s the message I’m sending out to you. That is the message that I’m sending out to the community. . . . Even you, wanting to be a person of God, have to [show] respect for all people.”

Obi’s sentence has been stayed pending resolution of her appeals.

Obi was 71 years old and had no prior criminal record when convicted.

The SJC concluded that ordering a septuagenarian to spend six months behind bars did not “shock the conscience,’’ and it must be upheld.

At the sentencing hearing, Suliman said the attack had “deep physical impact” on her and her children, some of whom saw their mother’s injuries after she fell 15 feet down the stairwell, the SJC wrote.

The SJC also ruled that while Obi might lose money because she must now notify tenants of her conviction, that requirement meets constitutional muster.

“The condition imposed on the defendant in this case is directed narrowly at ensuring that future tenants are aware of the risk they take by agreeing to rent one of the defendant’s apartments,’’ Lenk wrote.

The SJC concluded that all objections raised by Obi were legally unconvincing, and the court upheld both her conviction and Yee’s sentence.

“We conclude that the judge did not abuse his discretion in imposing the sentence of incarceration or in requiring the defendant to provide written disclosure to prospective tenants as a condition of probation,’’ Lenk wrote. “Accordingly, we affirm.’’

Advertisement




John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.