Saying she was worried about his mental state, a federal judge ordered former San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru to undergo a mental evaluation following a bizarre incident last week at a local foodbank that led to his arrest but no criminal charges.
"It does concern me," said U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim about the unusual chain of events that led to Nuru’s arrest on June 2. Nuru, 58, is free on $2 million bond as he faces federal corruption prosecution over his alleged acceptance of bribes and lying to the FBI.
Nuru was volunteering at the San Francisco-Marin Foodbank on Wednesday of last week when a temporary foodbank worker called 911 to report a robbery attempt. The worker told authorities that Nuru – a six-day-a-week volunteer at the facility -- had pointed a knife at him and demanded his chips.
The following day, Nuru was released without charges, however, after prosecutors said they interviewed another temporary worker who witnessed the incident and who backed up Nuru’s assertion that he was just joking.
In the hearing Monday, Nuru’s attorney, Ismail Ramsey, blamed the police for doing an “incomplete” probe, citing their failure to locate or interview the key witness.
“This really was a misunderstanding,” he said, and later stressed: “There really are no mental health issues.”
Ramsey explained that Nuru was taking the knife he had used to peel an orange to the sink to wash it when he showed it to the worker, joking saying: “Oh, you went to the store and didn’t bring me back any chips?”
The temporary worker reportedly said, “don’t play with me,” and left. Minutes later, Nuru found himself under arrest.
Ramsey said his client made “a joke, maybe an ill-conceived one, but one that was misinterpreted.”
Still, the probation officer in the case asked the judge to order a mental health assessment, noting that the police report indicated Nuru was “a little off” that day.
“The defendant admitted that he wasn’t feeling right,” the probation officer said. “I think there may be something going on with Mr. Nuru, we just don’t know what it is.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Joiner told the judge, “whether it was a joke or not, the victim clearly did not think it was a joke and did call the police.”
“However he intended it, it was a really poor decision,” Joiner said. “To be holding a knife and to make a joke. And what he said in his statement was, ‘Why didn’t you buy me lunch?’ – that’s an even poorer joke when you consider, in the context of this case,” he said, “where defendants have pleaded guilty to essentially buying Mr. Nuru free meals.”
In the end, Judge Kim said while she was heartened to hear that Nuru was not charged in the incident, she agreed a mental evaluation was warranted.
“It’s kind of unusual for a joke to be interpreted that way – so I am worried,” Kim said, adding that she saw “no harm in at least having some type of evaluation, because we don’t want Mr. Nuru to suffer any kind of harm himself.”