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Elmhurst teen avoids jail for cutting off Sikh’s hair

The Muslim teenager convicted of a hate crime in cutting a Sikh classmate's hair last year avoided jail time at his sentencing last Thursday.

Umair Ahmed, 18, of Elmhurst, was found guilty in February of menacing as a hate crime, coercion as a hate crime, criminal possession and harassment. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown had asked that the Pakistani-born Muslim serve between one and three years in prison.

A prison term could have resulted in Ahmed's deportation, separating him from his parents and five siblings.

Instead, Judge Joel Blumenfeld deferred any prison time for one year, ordering Ahmed into interim supervised probation and to complete 180 hours of community service and write an essay.

In addition, Ahmed must complete a tolerance program crafted by the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County.

Both the victim, Harpal Vacher, and prosecutor, Michael Brovner, were adamant at an April sentencing hearing that Ahmed serve jail time.

"He took my identity from me," Vacher said. "Once it has been cut, you lose your purity of being natural."

Sikhs regard the intactness of their hair as sacred.

The incident occurred May 24, 2007, after the two teens had exchanged insults about each other's mother the previous day, authorities said.

Ahmed approached Vacher, then 15, in the lunchroom of Newtown High School and told him the only way he would forgive him would be if he let Ahmed cut his hair, authorities said.

"For what? It is against my religion," Vacher responded, according to authorities. Ahmed then displayed a ring with Islamic inscriptions and threatened to punch Vacher if he did not go along with him, leaving the mark of Allah on his face, authorities said in a criminal complaint.

Ahmed ordered Vacher into the bathroom, threatening to find him after school, cut his hair and send him home naked if Vacher refused, the DA said. Vacher then allowed Ahmed to cut his hair, the DA said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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