Tattoo parlor manager pleads guilty to assaulting gay couple without facing hate crime charge

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By David Brand

The Jackson Heights tattoo parlor manager accused of using homophobic slurs before attacking a gay couple last year pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault on March 27.

Mohammed Hoque, 26, allegedly assaulted Elmhurst resident Jeremy Valarezo and his husband Joseph Sokolowski when they attempted to buy a pipe at the Village Moon tattoo shop in Jackson Heights on Nov. 3, 2018. Cellphone video shows Hoque arguing with Valarezo and Sokolowski after Sokolowski refused to let Hoque make a copy of his driver’s license. Hoque called the pair a homophobic slur during the dispute, the video shows.  

He allegedly followed the couple out of the store and punched Valarezo in the face, though the assault was not caught on camera.

Hoque pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of second-degree harassment. The conditional plea deal includes enrollment in a 15-week anger management and sensitivity program, a person familiar with the case told the Eagle.

The judge directed Hoque to return to court on May 28 to review the conditions of his plea deal.

Hoque’s attorney Christopher Renfroe did not immediately respond to request for comment on Friday.

The Queens District Attorney’s office decided not to pursue hate crime charges against Hoque.

 “The case was thoroughly investigated by the Hate Crimes Task Force,” said a spokesperson for the Queens DA’s Office. “Our office consulted at length with the attorneys for both sides, as there were cross criminal complaints in regards to the incident. All defendants agreed with the disposition of the case, which included anger management and sensitivity training.”

The incident galvanized Queens leaders and members of the LGBTQ+ community earlier this year. Councilmember Daniel Dromm organized a rally on Jan. 22 to denounce the attack and to call on the DA to charge Hoque with a hate crime.

"We stand united to demand justice for Jeremy Valarezo and his husband," said Dromm, who chairs the City Council's LGBT Caucus. "The facts are crystal clear: Hoque committed a hate crime and should be charged accordingly.”

“It is bad enough that this hate violence occurred in Jackson Heights, home to one of the largest LGBTQ communities in New York,” Dromm continued. “The police's response has been just as appalling.  The NYPD should act in the best interest of the survivors — not further victimize them. We call upon the police to right this wrong.”

"For my husband and myself, the past two months have been a living nightmare," Valarezo said at the January rally. "The pain and humiliation we have suffered has been almost unbearable.  After calling us 'f[****]t,' Hoque violently attacked me. We were clearly targeted for being openly gay men. It is our hope that the NYPD treats this hate crime for what it is, and holds Hoque accountable for it.  All we want is for justice to be served, and to live our lives in peace again.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who represents Jackson Heights, denounced the incident on Twitter in January.

“I won’t be getting tattooed here anymore,” Ramos tweeted, referring to Village Moon. “May I recommend you find another shop, too.”

Sokolowski was charged with criminal mischief for knocking over a mannequin as he left the store. That charge will be dismissed and sealed in April.